In February, a stranger knocked on the door of Monica Villela’s home in Green Valley Ranch and showed her the paperwork that proved he bought her house at a foreclosure auction for $25,000.
Villela said she had no idea that the Master Homeowners Association of Green Valley Ranch had put a lien on her family’s home, which they’d owned for 17 years, because they had not pulled their trash can from the street on time. A fine for that violation had accumulated late fees for non-payment that eventually led to the lien, which led to a foreclosure sale.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Villela said.
On Thursday, she joined other Green Valley Ranch residents who’ve tangled with the HOA to call out their practices and to question whether or not the association is targeting minority homeowners. The Master Homeowners Association has been the target of widespread criticism this year after residents started complaining about foreclosures and data showed that particular HOA was responsible for 13% of all foreclosures in the city in 2021.
“This is an injustice,” Villela said.
The group, led by The Redress Movement, a national organization that fights for equity in homeownership, called on Denver city officials to collect racial and ethnic data on liens and foreclosures initiated by homeowners associations throughout the city, not just in Green Valley Ranch. Because Green Valley Ranch is so ethnically and racially diverse, it leads to questions about who is the target of foreclosure, said John Comer, The Redress Movement’s national organizer.
Comer and others working in the neighborhood say they see disturbing patterns but there’s no data to prove it.
“We have seen patterns of what we feel like is resegregation,” he said.
However, data may be hard to come by because no one collects it, and no public agency appears to have the authority or responsibility to do so.
The Redress Movement called on the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office and the city’s Department of Housing Stability to collect it. But Derek Woodward, a spokesman for the Department of Housing Stability, said the office didn’t collect data and suggested calling the clerk’s office. Alton Dillard, a clerk’s office spokesman, said his agency didn’t have oversight of HOA foreclosures.
The Denver Sheriff Department oversees the sales, but the sheriff’s documents do not include demographics such as race, ethnicity, gender or age.
As of Thursday, the sheriff’s department listed 12 homes scheduled for a foreclosure auction between Nov. 17 and Feb. 23. Four were filed by the Master HOA.
The Master Homeowners Association is managed by the Green Valley Ranch Metro District, which employs inspectors who look for violations and mail notices. An HOA board of directors, however, makes decisions on disputes over fines and fees and decides whether to pursue foreclosure.
Micaela Duffy, the metro district manager, said she could not speak on behalf of the board. Efforts on Thursday to reach the board’s president were unsuccessful.
In 2021, the Master Homeowners Association filed 50 foreclosures against residents, accounting for 13% of all filings in Denver that year and nearly half of all HOA-initiated foreclosures, according to data from the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office. The association represents about 4,600 homes in Green Valley Ranch, all located south of 48th Avenue,
In Colorado, HOAs wield power with little oversight from state and local officials. They are allowed to place a lien on a home that supersedes even a bank’s mortgage loan. People like Villela can lose a home during a foreclosure auction and still owe money on their home loan and lose all the equity they had built.
Denver City Council passed legislation earlier this year that added some protections to homeowners facing foreclosure in response to the situation in Green Valley Ranch. An HOA must provide a notice at least 30 days prior to seeking to foreclose on a lien, and it has to maintain a record of the notice, including the date and time it was provided and what the notice stated.
In Green Valley Ranch, 462 income-restricted homeownership units fall under the city and county of Denver’s Affordable Housing Program. Critics of the HOA foreclosures say the city needs to get involved because multiple properties that have been put in foreclosure fall under the affordability program.
That’s the case with Villela, who lived in the house with her husband and six children when it was sold last year.
She and her husband continue to pay their Wells Fargo mortgage even though they no longer own the home. She lives in the house as they try to find money to buy it back from the man who bought it at auction. He has offered to sell it to them for $28,000 — $3,000 more than what he paid for it, she said. But they don’t have the cash and cannot get a second loan because the lien and foreclosure damaged their credit.
“I’ve been so scared,” she said.