It would take more than a small moving van to empty Johnnie H. Hodges Sr.’s Buffalo home of nearly 60 years of memories and belongings. And when police arrived on Thursday to evict the 90-year-old World War II veteran, he made it clear that they would also have to carry him out in handcuffs.
“He told the police officers, ‘Put the handcuff on me and take me,'” Hodges’s daughter Robin Hodges, 53, told The Washington Post. “They wouldn’t do that.”
Instead, Buffalo police and ambulance workers carried him from the two-story property on a stretcher and transported him to a Veterans Affairs hospital for a mental health evaluation. Meanwhile, the home where he raised his two children and nursed his wife of more than 65 years in her final days was emptied of his possessions. Movers took everything from the house, packed them into boxes and loaded them into two moving vans.
“There was nothing wrong with him emotionally or physically. His faculties are really good,” added his daughter, who watched the situation unfold that day. “That’s the only home that I know about,” Hodges said. “That’s where I grew up.”
Johnnie Hodges still wears his U.S. Navy hat decades after leaving the military, where he served on a transport ship in the Atlantic and Pacific, according to the Buffalo News, which first wrote about Hodges’s troubles in June. Robin Hodges said that her father had taken out a second loan on the home in 1996 to pay for repairs to the front porch, but financial troubles and the toll of taking care of his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, caused him to fall behind on the loan payments. All told, Hodges owed more than $100,000 to the bank for the home, fees and missed payments. There were also tens of thousands owed in additional liens on the property.
According to M&T Bank, however, the bank discussed options for resolving Hodges’s debt with him and his daughter by phone as early as August 2011. Over the next several years, phone calls and messages to Hodges and his daughter were not returned, the bank said. Robin Hodges said that they did not find out that the home had finally been foreclosed until about a year ago, near the end of her mother’s life. Her brother, Johnnie Hodges Jr., said that he learned about the eviction when a story was first published in the Buffalo News last month.
“My dad is the type of guy who doesn’t really say a lot,” Hodges, 62, said. “Everything is good; even if it’s not good, he won’t tell you.”
The bank told the Buffalo News that it delayed the auction on the home for years in order to try to make arrangements to “transition” Hodges to alternative housing. The company told the Post that they did everything they could do.
“It’s a sad day for everyone involved because this outcome could have been avoided. We’ve worked on this case for more than four years, involved local not-for-profit agencies and even worked with private citizens who were willing to arrange for him stay in the house for free, however all offers of assistance were refused,” C. Michael Zabel, vice president of corporate communications for M&T Bank, said in a statement. “Under the rules that govern FHA mortgages such as this one, we went far above and beyond what was required, but there was nothing else we could do.”
Johnnie Hodges Sr. told the Buffalo News that as he advanced in age, it became harder to pay the bills on a fixed income while also paying for his wife’s medical care.
“I’d taken a lump sum when Bethlehem Steel closed, and I started working as a part-time school bus driver,” he told the paper. “I’d work extra hours driving a bus and that helped with the bills. But when I was 85, they told me I couldn’t drive anymore because of my health. When my wife got sick, I had to spend money on medicines that the insurance didn’t cover. I was also ill for awhile.”
Members of the community, moved by the plight of a veteran in need, have also offered to help. But a fund set up by Robin Hodges raised just $1,500 for her effort to save the home. A businessman, who declined to be named, offered to donate $700 a month to help keep Hodges in the home, according to the Buffalo News. Another community member — a veteran — offered to purchase the house and allow Hodges to continue living there, but that deal fell through:
There was a brief prospect of a solution about three weeks ago. A disabled veteran who owns multiple properties offered to buy Hodges’ 3,200-square-foot home and let him live there for $1 a year. The potential buyer remained anonymous because he didn’t want recognition for the gesture. The veteran said he wanted to rent out the upstairs apartment at Hodges’ home to generate some income. That idea didn’t appeal to Hodges, according to Jonathan D. Schechter, an attorney who represented the veteran. After that and other minor complications, the prospective buyer pulled his offer.
Schechter told The Washington Post in an interview that his client ultimately decided against purchasing the home but that he still is offering to house Hodges in an apartment free of charge.
“It’s a tough story, it’s a sad story, it’s not right on so many different levels,” Schechter said, adding that he believes the bank went above and beyond to find a solution that could keep Hodges in his home.
As far as Hodges is concerned, his daughter said, the home is still his. When he was carried from his front porch on Thursday, it was just two days before the anniversary of his wife Flora’s death.
Hodges is a quiet man who rarely talks about difficulties in his life. And while his financial woes deepened, he kept his daughter and son out of the loop, she said. According to court documents, the bank set up a mediation meeting with Hodges in 2012, but he didn’t show up. The home was foreclosed on in January 2014, and Hodges was notified that he would be evicted from the home in February 2014, according to the paper.
“His major concern was taking care of my mother with Alzheimer’s,” Robin Hodges said. Despite his advanced age, Hodges said her father wanted to deal with the situation on his own. “He had all control over it,” Hodges said. “My father is fully capable of handling his affairs.”
“I keep hearing ‘You should have taken over, you’re the daughter.’ But my father … he wanted to do this,” she added.
According to M&T, the loan on the home was conveyed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday. Now, Hodges has been released from the hospital and is living in a senior apartment in the neighboring town of Cheektowaga, N.Y., and he is determined to make the best of the situation. According to his daughter, he isn’t saying much about the eviction. “He just still believes that things are going to work out,” she said.
[This post has been updated.]