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For a 90-year-old WWII veteran, eviction from his lifelong Buffalo home

Many people wanted Johnnie H. Hodges, a 90-year-old Navy veteran of World War II, to keep living in the place he has called home for the last 60 years.

But lending Hodges a hand wasn’t easy, and he didn’t accept offers for help. Time quickly ran out.

On Thursday morning, Hodges was taken from his Humboldt Parkway residence in Buffalo on a stretcher after an almost two-hour standoff that began when a U.S. marshal and Buffalo police showed up to evict him. He was transported for mental health evaluation by VA Western New York Health Care System.

Though he walked onto the front porch under his own power, an ambulance crew and police lifted him from a porch chair to the stretcher to be taken away.

“They’re going to have to take me – I’m not leaving,” Hodges reportedly told Allen Knight Jr., a member of his extended family, who was on the porch when Hodges was put on the stretcher.

After he left, a large crew from Extraordinary Properties, a Canandaigua-based company, carried cardboard boxes inside to begin removing property from the home where Hodges had lived for decades, before it was foreclosed on by M&T Bank.

Four years ago, he defaulted on a mortgage handled by M&T. He had spent most of his money caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease and had amassed debts of more than $73,000.

“It’s a sad day for everyone involved, because this outcome could have been avoided,” C. Michael Zabel, vice president of corporate communications at M&T, said in a statement.

Several Western New Yorkers had tried to help. A local businessman and his wife offered to contribute up to $700 a month to the cause. Many others stepped up after The Buffalo News published a June 19 article detailing Hodges’ plight.

“I want to help him out,” the businessman said last month. “He’s a person in need. He’s a veteran. He sounds like a great guy.”

In just 17 days, 27 people contributed a total of $1,520 to an online fundraising campaign set up by the veteran’s daughter, Robin Hodges.

But her father wanted the house to remain in his name, Robin Hodges said last month. That option, however, slipped away more than a year ago when M&T foreclosed on the property and took possession of the home.

Johnnie Hodges received a notice October 2011 that he had defaulted on his home loan, according to court documents.

A meeting between Hodges and the bank was later scheduled for May 2012. The goal of the conference was to find a way for Hodges to keep his home. He didn’t show up, the court documents state.

The house was sold at foreclosure in January 2014. In December 2013, Hodges had been sent a notice of the upcoming sale, and he didn’t appeal the decision.

Since the foreclosure, the bank delayed Hodges’ eviction at least three times. He was first notified that he eventually would be evicted from his home in February 2014.

Despite dire circumstances, Hodges had faith.

“There’s a man upstairs saying everything is going to be all right,” he said June 24. He was supposed to be evicted that day but it didn’t happen.

There was a brief prospect of a solution about three weeks ago. A disabled veteran who owns multiple properties offered to buy Hodges’ 3,200-square-foot home and let him live there for $1 a year. The potential buyer remained anonymous because he didn’t want recognition for the gesture.

The veteran said he wanted to rent out the upstairs apartment at Hodges’ home to generate some income. That idea didn’t appeal to Hodges, according to Jonathan D. Schechter, an attorney who represented the veteran. After that and other minor complications, the prospective buyer pulled his offer.

“The bank has gone above and beyond here,” Schechter said.

The upstairs of the large, two-story home contains property left by a late aunt, according to Robin Hodges. Downstairs is 50 years’ worth of things accumulated by her father and late mother.

The clean-out crew arrived in a box truck, which was later followed by two moving vans.

“They need an 18-wheeler, to be honest,” Robin Hodges said.

M&T has paid for two months’ worth of storage in four units, but the family will be responsible for the costs after that. The family will have full access to the property in storage, he said.

Robin Hodges she thinks the bank could have done more for her father.

“I know there’s such a thing as debt forgiveness,” she said. “I think this should have been forgiven.”

The bank, on the other hand, stressed its efforts to help Hodges.

“We’ve worked on this case for more than four years, involved local not-for-profit agencies and even worked with private citizens who were willing to arrange for him to stay in the house for free,” Zabel said in the statement. “However, all offers of assistance were refused.”

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