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Adrian Walker

Lender turns back on tenants

Marion Donohue doesn’t know what she’s going to do if the federal government succeeds in kicking her out of her Dorchester home.

Donohue has been a tenant in the two-family for nearly 18 years. Three years ago, right around the time she was diagnosed with cancer, her landlord lost the two-family house in foreclosure. Though the bank that originally held the mortgage handled the foreclosure process, the real owner of the building was Fannie Mae, the giant federal lender that holds the title to thousands of distressed properties nationwide, including about 1,400 in Massachusetts. It routinely buys mortgages from banks, which continue to service them.


“I just hope to God I can stay here,” Donohue said. “I don’t know where I’d go. I was born and raised in Dorchester and I don’t want to leave Dorchester.”

You know Fannie Mae. It is the agency that claims to promote affordable home ownership. They are the people we taxpayers bailed out during the financial meltdown a few years ago — to the tune of billions, since repaid. Its officials would have you believe they are on the side of neighborhood stabilization, though their actions in Donohue’s case may produce just the opposite effect.

Donohue’s home was one of five multifamily properties in Dorchester — most of them in the distressed Four Corners section — that a couple of local nonprofit agencies had worked tirelessly to save. For more than two years, City Life/Vida Urbana and COHIF (Coalition of Occupied Homes in Foreclosure) had been negotiating with Fannie Mae to buy the houses.

They saw it as the best solution for the neighborhood. Many of them are home to tenants like Donohue whose residences are being sold out from under them. They have been good tenants who paid their rent and just want to stay put. But Fannie Mae turned down the bids from the cash-strapped nonprofit COHIF, despite a plea from Attorney General Maura Healey to continue to negotiate. With almost no notice, it sold two of them at auction on July 30, then abruptly announced Friday that it will auction the other three. That decision means the people living in those properties probably will be evicted by new owners.


Although negotiations dragged on for more than two years, ultimately COHIF was simply unable to match the highest bids in the online auction. There’s nothing in the law to keep Fannie Mae from behaving reasonably and giving good tenants a break. The giant lender is not necessarily required to sell every property to the highest bidder. But in this case, it just plowed ahead with the sales.

Healey said the agency is ignoring its obligation to help stabilize neighborhoods, and said taxpayers will ultimately pay for tenants who fall into homelessness.

“I think you’re talking about a group of people with tunnel-vision,” Healey said of Fannie Mae. “They fail to see and understand their larger responsibility and their larger prerogative. And they don’t see the larger impact. Who’s going to pick up the bill when [Donohue is] out on the street? You’re burdening the taxpayer.”

Fannie Mae officials seem unconcerned about the effects of kicking people out of their homes. When I called Friday, I was told that the agency had “a responsibility to get a fair market price for the taxpayer.” As if nothing else matters.


Healey says Fannie Mae was wrong not to work to save the tenants from eviction. “How ironic that they are going to take action to leave families on the street. That is exactly what we were trying to prevent from happening.”

At least 30 residents are in danger of losing the roofs over their heads thanks to our nation’s publicly subsidized housing lender. Maybe Fannie Mae got top dollar. But is putting Marion Donohue on the street what we really bailed out Fannie Mae to do? Maybe the agency should show the same empathy toward tenants that taxpayers did toward the agency when it was in financial distress.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.