In 1979 my sister and her family moved into their home with the same expectations of so many others of that time. That expectation included raising their children in a safe and clean neighborhood where they would be educated in the local neighborhood schools. Their jobs would be secure and their dollars would stay within the community because they made a point, even then, to shop at local stores. They were intent on paying off their mortgage in 30 years.
Major housing repairs needed to be made. Health and welfare issues needed to be taken care of. College tuitions, ageing parent issues came to the forefront between then and now. Like most families, the American dream of debt and a mortgage became an all too familiar reality.
Throughout the nearly forty years, however, never was there a late payment on the only mortgage on this house. A solid reputation that produced outstanding rates was established with lenders across the board. Regardless of a divorce that left her as the sole bill payer of any loans, financial commitments were always met and a high credit score was always maintained.
As we all know, whether you have house that is underwater or not, the economy tanked in 2006. Bank of America took over smaller financial institutions and re-set mortgages that were impossible to keep up with. Some do, but many do not. Some homeowners are playing the waiting game and are struggling to meet their mortgages every month. They are perhaps praying that the economy will do a swift turn-a-round and they are waiting it out in hopes that a catastrophic illness will not strike in the meantime. God help them if they are laid off from a job they have held for more than 15 years.
Another reality check: a former well-paid employee of a now defunct corporation that is over the age of 45 has as much chance of becoming gainfully employed at the same rate of pay they have grown accustomed to as a snowball does in hell. Is this person able to meet his financial obligations including his mortgage? No! Is it safe to say that millions of Americans are now collecting food stamps or getting groceries from their local churches to insure that there will be food on the table and are embarrassed because they do? Yes! How many middle aged and ageing Americans are living without health insurance placing a further drain on city, county and state resources? The average unemployment time for this age group is now 3 to 4 years. In the mean time they are drowning. All of this is connected to the economy and the bank’s stance on loan principal and interest rates not to mention any late fees that may have accrued.
Are older Americans under attack? I believe this to be so. There are those that would have us believe that the financial woes of older Americans is highly exaggerated (Read Charles Lane via The Washington Post.) We are asking ourselves, what rock has this man been hiding under? The faces of folks in line to recycle cans and bottles for a few dollars and to get a bag of groceries at my church on Athens Avenue are older and greyer. Far too many of these older people are people of color. My sister is on Social Security, a very fixed income and is to be counted in that number.
What is a community if it is not the people?
It is probably safe to say that 1 in 5 homes in this area are underwater and are facing foreclosure. It is time for some creative solutions coming from the banks and the US government that will get America out of this foreclosure crises that is quickly syphoning the life out of our communities. While some homeowners are sitting and waiting for a brighter day and others have just given up all together and abandoned the property, others, like my sister Patricia, along with my support, are standing our ground and are willing to fight against the unfair practices of Bank of America. We recognize, like millions of others across this great nation, that a house is more than just a house.
These are extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures.
We are sending a clear message to big banks specifically to reduce the principal and put a freeze on foreclosure in this neighborhood immediately. Stop selling our lives below market value. Stop selling our lives at auction. The investors, who do not have any interest in living in our communities–stop the buying and flipping.
This threat is very real and it does not seem to be going away. Like most, my sister understands that the nation’s economy has not improved much over these past few years. People are still being displaced from their homes. At this time, Bank of America has requested more forms and data for a “unique” modification on the loan. If she qualifies, the scheduled foreclosure sale of her “unique” property on Maxwell Avenue that is slated for September 24 may be stopped. In the meantime, her life remains in limbo and homelessness has become a tangible reality.
Immediate action is needed and somebody has to hear this cry for help. Our government creatively bailed out the banks. Now is the time for them to step up to the plate and do what is right for the American people. My sister’s loan must be modified today. The Homeowners Bill of Rights goes into effect on January 1, 2013. Don’t let her be yet another dark statistic that is taking a toll on the City of Oakland.
Our call is to the Mayor and City Council to also intervene. I invite them to walk this neighborhood and talk to its long-time residents. Put faces on the numbers of under-water and foreclosed homes. Find out firsthand what needs to happen to turn this around and keep Oakland a powerful, innovative and thriving city – a real jewel on the West Coast.
Debi Mason, 62, is a long time community activist and writer. She is a member of the Bay Area Black Journalist Association, the National Association of Black Storytellers, the Black Organizing Project and is the founder and artistic director of Spoken Word Ministries. Her published works include a book of poems and essays, Speaking Boldly, As I Ought To Speak, Vol. 1, and a personal testimony, Arizona Clay which won the 2011 Best Autobiographical Self-help Book Award from the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. As a new member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, she considers herself to be an outspoken “rabble rouser” that is motivated by the issues concerning older Americans of color. Debi is also a Christian spoken word artist and a member of Center of Grace Ministries in North Oakland.
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