Johnnie Hodges, 90, told police to cuff him if they wanted to evict him, but after a two-hour standoff, they settled on carrying him out on a stretcher. (Photo: Derek Gee, Buffalo News)
All Johnnie Hodges wants to do is go home.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran has lived in the same house on Humboldt Parkway in Buffalo, N.Y., for longer than he can remember. Really. He knows it’s been more than 50 years. It’s where he and his wife, Flora, raised their children—who now have grown-up children of their own—and it’s where Flora passed away last year after almost 67 years of marriage. She would have turned 87 today.
But Johnnie H. Hodges Sr. was evicted over the summer, carried out on a stretcher after an almost two-hour standoff, when he fell behind on mortgage payments and other bills during his wife’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s.
(Photo of Johnnie Hodges by Derek Gee, Buffalo News)
Now his family and friends—as well as complete strangers touched by his story—are rallying to raise enough money so that Hodges can buy back the house and go home.
They have about $35,000 of the $50,000 they need to cover the home’s value, but the clock is ticking.
They have worked out an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which now owns the home, that would allow Hodges and his family to purchase the home before it goes up for auction, but they only have until Nov. 5—about a week before Veterans Day—to come up with the money. (Click here for Johnnie Hodges’ GoFundMe campaign.)
“I always appreciated this house, because it’s where I raised my kids and where I was with my wife. The way me and her had our relationship, I loved being there with her,” Hodges tells Yahoo Real Estate, speaking from a senior citizens’ apartment in Cheektowaga, N.Y., where he has been living since the eviction.
“It’s not bad where I live,” he says. “But it’s not Humboldt Parkway.”
Hodges says he bought the house with his wife after they outgrew their starter house a few miles away on East Utica Street. They had a pretty big family living there at the time: her mother and her sister as well as his son and their daughter, Johnnie Jr. and Robin.
Flora and Johnnie Hodges, Sr. (Photo provided by Robin Hodges)
Johnnie Hodges Jr., himself a Vietnam War veteran, recalls to Yahoo Real Estate that the year was 1957, when he was just 5 years old. He says the house was an upgrade to a nicer neighborhood, and remembers the house fondly as the place where he and his friends would hang out in the basement around a pool table “being boys” while his mom made them a platter of sandwiches. He would get up early with his dad so they could eat breakfast together: his dad’s favorite, a bowl of oatmeal.
Robin Hodges tells Yahoo Real Estate she shares similar stories. “That’s the only place that was my home. It’s where I was born and raised and nurtured and had a warm, loving family.”
Their dad worked at Bethlehem Steel for decades, where he was the first African-American foreman, before the company shut down the plant. As recently as five years ago, he was still working as a part-time bus driver, when his aging body and his wife’s ailing health forced him to retire.
“My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008 and after that, things just kind of got lost,” Robin Hodges says.
Johnnie was her primary caretaker except when, at the very end, he needed the help of an aide.
“We did everything together,” he says. “We went to church together and we went for little walks around the neighborhood, because she liked walking.”
When walking became too difficult, friends and Robins’ sons would come around and put her in the wheelchair and take her out.
“She did as much as she could really do for herself,” he says, but eventually, “we had to do everything for her.”
She died last year, in that home, with her husband by her side.
“That hit the family hard as a whole,” their son says.
It was during this time that the Hodges children found out the house had entered foreclosure. Their dad, who was on a fixed income and facing mounting bills for his wife’s care, had fallen behind on mortgage payments (he had taken out a second loan on the home to pay for repairs in the 1990s). His finances had spiraled out of control after his wife’s diagnosis and his retirement, according to the Buffalo News, which reported that he also had debts with two other financial institutions and a 2010 bankruptcy filing.
But whenever Robin and Johnnie Jr. asked if everything was OK, their parents would insist all was fine.
“My dad is a very strong, tough individual,” Robin Hodges says.
She says she found a paper trail and eventually pried the story out of her dad last year. Since then, she has been working to keep him home.
The owner of the mortgage, M&T Bank, told the Buffalo News over the summer that it tried for four years and through multiple avenues to find a solution short of eviction.
“Under the rules that govern FHA mortgages such as this one, we went far above and beyond what was required, but there was nothing else we could do,” C. Michael Zabel, vice president of corporate communications at M&T, said in a statement.
Eventually, Hodges was forced to leave, though he refused to do it.
When police officers arrived July 9 to carry out the eviction, he told them they’d have to handcuff him. They refused to do that, and eventually, after a standoff of nearly two hours, he was carried out on an ambulance stretcher—his blue Navy hat perched on his head—in some form of compromise. All his possessions were packed up in several trucks over the next three days and scurried away to storage.
The newspaper’s reports caught the attention of local resident Greg Elwood. Although he and Hodges have never met, the story really touched him. And in what he calls Buffalo’s two degrees of separation rule, Elwood’s father had worked with Robin Hodges at an engineering firm. Now Elwood is running the GoFundMe campaign.
The people of Buffalo have been kind, Elwood says, but it hasn’t been quite enough. Efforts to help Hodges have also suffered setbacks: Promising offers evaporated or didn’t hold up to scrutiny; one man offered to buy the house and furnish it for Hodges, but his family soon found out he was a fraudster who had tried to pull similar schemes.
Besides the GoFundMe campaign, a fundraiser is in the works called Pay It Forward for Johnnie on Oct. 30. All of it is in the hope of returning Hodges to his home by Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Robin hopes to move in with her father so she can take care of him and he can enjoy spending more time with her 9-year-old son, who will also get a chance to live in the house that means so much to his family.
For now, the house sits empty on a street that used to be a parkway.
“It was a very beautiful parkway,” Robin Hodges says. “My parents watched it transform from a prairie and trees to an expressway.”
Her dad used to take the kids out there with his wife when they were young. Even though things have changed now, he still enjoys the view.
“I like to sit on the porch and watch the traffic go by.”
Hodges’ house is shown here in the center, with the blue dot on it, in Bing Maps’ Bird’s Eye View.
Hodges’ house is the one on the left. This picture and the next are from Google Maps’ Street View.
Once upon a time, the house was across the street from a “very beautiful parkway,” Robin Hodges says. “My parents watched it transform from a prairie and trees to an expressway.”
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