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89-year-old Oak Harbor woman faces homelessness after mortgage mix-up

Chieko Durham said she wasn't aware her home was put up for auction by the bank. Now her friends are raising money to buy her home back from the new owner.

OAK HARBOR, Wash. — Chieko Durham has lived in her Oak Harbor home for 38 years with her husband, a retired master chief from the U.S. Navy.

John Durham is now in a nursing home. Before he went, he took out a reverse mortgage on the home so his wife would be financially comfortable.

But the exact opposite has happened.

"This is very devastating for them because she's worked all her life, her husband has worked all his life. They worked hard for this house," said longtime family friend Paula Murphy.

One condition of the reverse mortgage is that the borrower continues to live in the home. When the bank heard Durham's husband had moved out, it sent someone to verify she was still living there, but the 89-year-old woman, who speaks English as a second language, apparently never answered the door.

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"If someone comes to the door, she's not answering it, especially if she doesn't know them. She's scared, you know," said Murphy.

As a result, the bank foreclosed on the house and sold it at auction.

The new owner, Jeff Harding of Lake Stevens, started eviction proceedings. He has since backed off, according to his attorney, Paul Newmiller. Still, Oak Harbor banker Jason Joiner said the situation looks grim for Durham.

"There was a false assumption that she had moved out of the house," he said. "Unfortunately, there is no legal basis upon which she can get this overturned. There is no winner here."

"I'm scared for her," said Murphy. "She's very adamant about saying she's going to die in this house."

With homelessness a very real possibility, friends and neighbors are offering to raise enough money to buy the house back from the new owner and make him whole.

The amount would be in excess of $100,000. Whether or not the new owner would go for it is another question.

In an email to KING 5, Harding's attorney said his client is "sympathetic to Ms. Durham’s situation," and "willing to discuss any reasonable solution."

Murphy prays Harding will show compassion for her fragile and frightened friend.

"She really wants to stay here until her last breath," said Murphy. "God willing, that will happen."

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