Lost by Fraud and Deceit

Family fights to win back their historic home

Michael Leighton | 11/3/2020, 3:59 p.m.
An African American family with indigenous roots is locked in a dramatic struggle for the right to return to their ...
The Kinney family is pictured outside the home they were evicted from this summer on North Mississippi Avenue. The family is appealing to get the home back, claiming a sophisticated mortgage scam and foreclosure was triggered by fraud and deceit.

An African American family with indigenous roots is locked in a dramatic struggle for the right to return to their historic home in one of Portland’s most gentrified neighborhoods, a battle blamed on a sophisticated mortgage scam, an alleged fraud and deceit case that has captured the hearts and minds of a growing community of allies pursuing racial and economic justice.

“It’s a David and Goliath fight,” said William Nietzche, about the battle to win back the old Kinney family home, a red house on North Mississippi Avenue, just down from the intersection of North Skidmore Street, and now next door to where tents have been set up by allies of the family wanting to help them and others trying to survive houselessness or similar plights.

The community of supporters gather under a banner that says “Domicile the Land,” and where they accept donations of meals, clothes, blankets and heaters to distribute to others in need, Nietzche said. The picture of collective community action is a stirring contrast to the new multi-million dollar condominium properties rising on all sides of the street and for several blocks.

Included as part of Albina in early Portland, the Mississippi neighborhood was a redlined area back in the early to mid 20th Century where African Americans were allowed to reside in Portland at a time when real estate covenants restricted Black residents from living in other areas of the city. But over the past few decades, Urban renewal and rezoning for commercial and multi-family developments has changed the landscape and led to an economic displacement of Black residents.

The Kinneys were one of the few African American and Native American families still remaining in the once majority-Black neighborhood when sheriff’s deputies came armed with guns this summer to enforce an eviction order in their mortgage dispute, forcibly removing the elderly William Kinney Jr., his wife Julie Metcalf and their two adult sons.

The family traces ownership of the home to 1955 when it was purchased by William Kinney Sr., Nietzche’s grandfather who moved to Portland from the South. The house was passed to William Kinney Jr., his father, in the early 1990s.

Currently the family is working on two pending appeals to get the property returned to them. One is before the federal Ninth Circuit and the other is before the Oregon Supreme Court.

Earlier court decisions in the cases were “riddled with errors,” Nietzche said, facts the younger family member learned by researching and acting as his own attorney.

“I’ve had to develop a legal mind,” Nietzche told the Portland Observer, calling it “A nitty, gritty” experience that he compared to going to law school.

He said the family’s foreclosure and eviction dispute goes back to the predatory subprime loans the banking mortgage industry made in minority communities and that were tied to the 2008 financial crisis.

He said his family had a relatively small second mortgage and it was not in default, paying faithful payments for 14 years when a second mortgage that the Kinneys did not sign off on or authorize in the refinance process triggered a default claim.

The case led to the family’s claims against the Freedom Home Mortgage Corporation, and the Mortgage Electronic Registration System or MERS, a creation of some of the biggest lenders in the banking mortgage industry to avoid having to record property deeds and titles when a loan is bought and sold.

MERS was called a racket that made it difficult for people facing problems with their mortgages to know whom to deal. Multnomah County and the state of Oregon sued MERS for not following Oregon law which requires the recording of trust deeds.

The county won a $40 million settlement against MERS in 2016 to recover lost revenue from fees that would have been paid for recording property transactions, but under terms of a settlement, MERS was exempted from facing any new lawsuits, including from the Kinneys, Nietzche said.

The family also laments the fact it is not benefitting from current moratoriums on evictions imposed this year during the coronavirus pandemic by both Multnomah County and the state of Oregon. Although local law requires multiple forms of notification prior to evictions, the Kinneys said they received no notice before the sheriff patrol came to forcefully evict them in September.

Nietzche said he has contacted county officials and his State Representative Tawna Sanchez for help, but has found that “No one knows how to enforce the moratoriums.”

Oregon, like many states, also offers a “right of redemption” which allows people whose homes have been foreclosed on to buy them back. But the Kinneys also discovered the right did not apply in their case because the eviction was from a non-judicial proceeding.

The Kinneys are currently seeking pro bon legal support, intervention from Gov. Kate Brown or help from others who could potentially reverse the foreclose and return a home that is rightfully theirs. Any qualified attorneys who are open to providing consultation and other legal assistance are encouraged to contact the family via their website redhouseonmississippi.com or via Instagram @redhouseonmississippi.

A Go Fund Me page has also been set up at gofundme.com/f/save-the-kinney-family-home.