Chron­i­cle Season of Shar­ing Fund:

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Henry Schul­man

An East Oak­land se­nior was for­tu­nate to in­herit a house from her sis­ter, but nearly lost it when two ad­justable-rate mort­gages soared.

Five days a week, eight hours a day, Karen Chaney stands at a Wal­mart cash reg­is­ter, work­ing a full­time job at 67 to make sure she can stay above wa­ter fi­nan­cially and keep her East Oak­land house.

“It’s hard,” Chaney said as she sat on her liv­ing room sofa on a re­cent day off. “I come home ev­ery night and have to take hot Ep­som salt baths be­cause my body hurts so bad.”

Things could have been much worse for Chaney. In fact, they al­most were un­til The Chron­i­cle’s Season of Shar­ing helped her keep her home, which is fes­tooned with pho­tos of her two daugh­ters, grand­daugh­ter and, over the fire­place, a black-and-white grad­u­a­tion pic­ture from Oak­land’s Castle­mont High.

That photo de­picts Chaney’s sis­ter, Glenda Ham­monds, who died in Septem­ber 2013. Ham­monds had lived in the house for 30 years and be­queathed it to Chaney, a bless­ing that the re­tiree nearly lost.

Chaney also in­her­ited two mort­gages, which she was able to pay de­spite a “very fixed” in­come from So­cial Se­cu­rity and re­tiree ben­e­fits from the city of Berke­ley.

That is, un­til early in 2018. Those mort­gages had ad­justable rates and shot up by a com­bined $509, an in­crease that Chaney strug­gled to pay.

“I was main­tain­ing, and I was able to do it un­til I got to where I was jug­gling,” she said. “One month I would pay my first and then my util­i­ties and stuff, and the

next month I would pay the sec­ond and util­i­ties.”

The bank fi­nally told her that was in­ad­e­quate.

“They caught up with me,” Chaney said, “and it came to a head.”

That meant de­fault no­tices and a likely fore­clo­sure, which dev­as­tated a woman who knew all too well the per­ils of try­ing to find hous­ing in the Bay Area on a lim­ited in­come.

Chaney spent the fi­nal six years of her ca­reer with the city of Berke­ley work­ing for the hous­ing au­thor­ity, deal­ing with in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who needed pub­lic hous­ing or Sec­tion 8 as­sis­tance. The thought of los­ing her own home gave Chaney an ache that Ep­som salt could not have cured.

“My daugh­ters, I prob­a­bly could have lived with them, but to me I was still go­ing to be home­less,” she said, “and I did not want to lose my sis­ter’s house af­ter she had been here for 30 years and she left it for me. I never would have been able to af­ford a house.”

A friend who was seek­ing money for a down pay­ment on a house told Chaney about Season of Shar­ing, which pro­vides one-time funds to peo­ple in un­ex­pected crises. She phoned and left a mes­sage, later get­ting a call back telling her to bring her pa­per­work to Alameda County So­cial Ser­vices, which helps ad­min­is­ter the fund within the county.

It took time to sort through her ap­pli­ca­tion.

Cristina John­son, a spe­cial­ist for the so­cial ser­vices agency, was moved by Chaney’s story.

“I was mo­ti­vated to help her be­cause she was on the brink of los­ing her home,” John­son said. “With the ris­ing hous­ing prices it would have been very dif­fi­cult for her to be housed if she lost her in­her­ited prop­erty.”

One day, over the sum­mer, Chaney was ly­ing on her sofa when the phone rang.

“It was Season of Shar­ing,” Chaney said, “and they told me that they had some good news for me, that I was cho­sen by them to help pay my mort­gage, and they were go­ing to help pay my first and the sec­ond.”

Season of Shar­ing helped her by pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance that brought her cur­rent on both mort­gages.

Chaney started cry­ing into the phone. She cried just talk­ing about it.

“It’s been a bless­ing ever since be­cause, oh my God, they helped me from be­ing out in the streets,” she said. And now?

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m back on track.”

Chaney still has to pay the ad­justed mort­gages of nearly $1,400 a month. She also is pay­ing down a $4,000 prop­erty tax bill she re­ceived be­cause the taxes she was pay­ing through her bank’s es­crow ac­count were not ad­justed to cover an in­crease that was levied af­ter her sis­ter died and the prop­erty was re­assessed.

“I just didn’t want to get caught any­more,” she said. “I needed to go to work.”

When her work­day is done, Chaney re­turns home — to her home — which The Chron­i­cle’s Season of Shar­ing helped her save.

Pho­tos by Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

Karen Chaney was be­queathed her home by her sis­ter, but then al­most lost it to fore­clo­sure.

Chaney was jug­gling house pay­ments af­ter mort­gage costs rose dra­mat­i­cally, but the bank deemed her ef­forts in­ad­e­quate.

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