Kwaku Atta Poku, the Columbia taxi owner who lost his family's townhouse to foreclosure despite making every mortgage payment, is moving to a new rental home, thanks to help from a community group using a new state program to help them recover.
"With us moving to this place now, I feel a little bit better," Atta Poku, 55, said of the three-bedroom townhouse in East Columbia that Congregations Concerned for the Homeless has arranged for him to rent.
"At least someone came to our aid and I can have a place for them," he said of his wife, Beatrice, 39, and his children Kofi, 4, Afua, 3, and Amma, 1.
In addition, a fund begun by a customer of his taxi business has received $4,360 in donations to help Atta Poku with debts and living expenses while his lawyers try to reverse his fortunes in the courts. The fund, begun by Neil Carey, a retired Ellicott City teacher, is administered by the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center in Columbia.
Atta Poku was evicted from his townhouse one year ago after he could not prove in court that the original mortgage was paid off during a refinancing in 2001, partly because the settlement check and several other documents were lost by the large financial institutions involved in the deal.
He doesn't know whether his lawyers will be able to persuade the courts to compensate him for financial losses that all agree were not his fault, but he remains determined to try.
"I don't want to give up hope. That's the only thing I have to hold onto," he said.
Jackie Eng, board president and acting executive director of Congregations Concerned for the Homeless, a 17-year-old nonprofit based in Howard County, said she was touched while showing the family members their new house.
When she asked Kofi, who his father says often demands to go "home" to their old house, if he could feel at home in the new one, he "nodded, with a sheepish grin," she said.
Eng's group is using the nine-month-old state Family Stabilization Program, administered through Howard County government, to help the Atta Poku family.
Under the program, the group offers continuing support and counseling to families on things such as budgeting, use of credit, parenting and, in Atta Poku's case, business development.
"We have mentors that work with our families. We hope to get him whatever resources he needs to build his business back up," Eng said.
"He's going to be a wonderful client. We all need some help in some areas, and he's so appreciative."
Because he has bad credit due to the foreclosure, the group found and leased the townhouse that Atta Poku will sublet. He had been living temporarily in a smaller home that he had surreptitiously rented under a friend's name.
The group is not requiring the family to pay a security deposit on the rental home.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman's administration offered the family several potential places to rent, but Atta Poku said he preferred this house because it's near a shopping area to which his wife, who does not drive, can walk. Also, Kofi can stay in the same school program.
Atta Poku insists that Washington Mutual Inc., the Seattle-based mortgage firm that refinanced his house in 2001, was paid off. A Washington Mutual spokesman has said the firm didn't receive the money.
Less than six weeks elapsed between Atta Poku's first notice that the mortgage firm was proceeding with foreclosure and the sale of his house. Maryland law provides quick foreclosure as a remedy when a mortgage isn't paid and doesn't require mortgage firms to prove homeowners were notified.
Maryland officials have vowed to change state law to give homeowners more time and notice to fight foreclosure, but that won't help Atta Poku, a naturalized citizen and an immigrant from Ghana who built a small taxi service, but now finds himself financially ruined.
He came to the United States in 1992, gravitating to Columbia two years later. He built his AAAA Star cab service from scratch, driving by day and learning how to repair and maintain his cabs at night.
Atta Poku's lawyers, Gerald M. Richman of Ellicott City and Scott C. Borison of Frederick, are awaiting word on two court actions they filed after their attempt to have the Court of Special Appeals declare the foreclosure illegal failed in May.
In June, they asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to rule whether it was right for the Court of Special Appeals to dismiss Atta Poku's case on what the lawyers said was a technicality. They've also asked the Howard County Circuit Court to award Atta Poku the proceeds from the sale of his home, plus punitive damages. No ruling has been made in either case.