Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

Donna Vieira works seven days a week fighting Wells Fargo over the foreclosure that caused her family to lose their second home.

Related: California reeling from the foreclosure crisis

Profiles: Family won't give up

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 

The Investigative Reporting Workshop and New America Media profiled those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis in communities of color.

New America Media

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — Donna Vieira sits in front of her laptop in her San Leandro home. She is on the phone with a Wells Fargo representative, the kind of phone call that has become routine in Vieira's life over the last six years. Her 6-year-old son Leo sits nearby, silently doing his homework, having learned to not disturb his mom at these moments.

Vieira and her husband, Nuno, started a successful real estate appraisal business at the peak of the housing market. Six years ago, the couple bought a second home in Reno, Nev., with plans to move their family and business there. According to Vieira, Wells Fargo over-appraised the Reno property, leaving them stuck with a high adjustable rate mortgage on a property that is worth much less than their loan.

Now Vieira spends an average of five hours a day, seven days a week, in a legal fight with Wells Fargo over the mortgage fraud issue. Because of her commitment to the lawsuit, Vieira only works part-time in the family business.

"I am a really good researcher," she said. "The banks have lawyers who graduated from Stanford and other expensive schools, lawyers with decades of experience on similar cases. The only way I can fight them is to out-research them, to be two steps ahead of them every step of the way."

The case is still stuck in Nevada's court system. In the meantime, Wells Fargo foreclosed on their Reno home for nonpayment.

"Knowing the mortgage was fraudulent, we just couldn't keep on paying," Nuno said, adding that they stopped making mortgage payments in September of 2009.

The family still resides at their house in San Leandro, which they bought in 1997, but the foreclosure on the Reno property has made it harder to refinance and get a better mortgage interest rate on their current home.

"Despite the foreclosure, both of us still maintain near perfect credit scores," Vieira said, "but due to something that is completely not our fault, we can't take advantage of the low mortgage rates now and switch to a 30-year fixed. It just creates so much uncertainty in our life."

Vieira has become a fixture at Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, where she said everyone recognizes her. Her website, detailing her legal fight against Wells Fargo, gets 500 clicks per day. But at the moment, she would much rather put down the phone and read to her son.

They send Leo — a first-grader with a fourth-grade reading ability — to a private school, despite the good public schools in the area. "We can't send Leo [to the public school], because I don't have the time to help him with his homework or to track his progress in school," she said.

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


Back Story

The authors talk about What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele talk about the project, and why they decided to revisit a book they wrote two decades ago, in a series of video clips produced by the Workshop.

Nation's Story

Who pays the taxes?

Who pays the taxes?

We feature charts, maps, photos and other visualizations that reflect the state of the economy as part of our What Went Wrong project. This column chart shows the growing disparity between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes. In the 1950s, the difference was 22 percent. Recent figures show the difference is 62 percent.

Rags to rags: Economic mobility hard to come by

New Pew Center on States report confirms that moving up the American economic ladder is difficult, even though most people have more income than their parents.

Homelessness takes it toll on Florida's youngest

Florida, as a center of the housing boom, still struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Financial stresses and widespread foreclosures have placed families in precarious situations, resulting in a spike in child homelessness. Susannah Nesmith reports in the Broward Bulldog.

Older workers face challenges in Silicon Valley

An advanced degree and experience in the tech sector should be a ticket to a job in today's economy. But older workers in the heart of the new economy, Silicon Valley, are finding their resume is not the issue. Aaron Glantz reports in The Bay Citizen.

 Subscribe to the RSS Feed

Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.