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Posts Tagged ‘losing your home’

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For awhile now, I’ve experienced a lack of deep, spiritual connection. I remember hearing about this issue when it was discovered that Mother Teresa wrote in her diaries that she had suffered from what she termed ‘spiritual dryness’ for many, many years. She persevered in spite of spiritual disconnect she felt, but apparently died without feeling any assurance that a loving God was watching out for her. I don’t compare myself in any way, shape or form to Mother Teresa, and my spiritual issues aren’t as serious as hers apparently were; however, I have realized that this issue affects a great many people, and it’s usually trauma that kicks it off.

I drove back through the old neighborhood this morning, having felt compelled to do so over tea. Call it a ‘spiritual phone call,’ but I knew that I had to check on something. I just didn’t know what that was. I drove by the old house, and noticed that the fence continues to fall apart, missing boards like a face losing teeth. It bothers me that the new-ish owners won’t replace the missing boards in our fence–it seems a sign to me of neglect, or depression, or a lack of pride in their house. They have left the gargoyle on the roof, the crosses on the side of the garage, the lanterns on the deck and other assorted items that we left behind. The result is, it looks like our house and they are temporary occupants. I wonder why they never seemed to bother to put their stamp on it, to make it their own; I wonder if my attachment and connection to the house and property was just too strong . . .

I continued on around the corner to the Big Pink House that we used to walk by on a regular basis. We always thought that there was something wrong with the owners, something ‘off’ about the house, and the big, nasty dog never helped matters. We never spoke to them in the past. I wish we had, because maybe we could have supported each other in the sad business of losing one’s home. A red-haired lady was out front, frazzled, sad, sorting through piles of stuff that she had removed from her house. I know from stalking real estate sites that her house had sold a couple of months back. She waved me down, I stopped the car, and she asked me if I had any use for a punching bag. She wanted, she said, to give all this stuff “to Jesus,” or anyone else who might take it. I said that I had little use for a punching bag, but that I would see if anyone else I knew might want to pick it up. “It cost me a hundred dollars,” she said, “all this stuff has to go. I am happy to give it all away.” She seemed confused, overwhelmed; she said that she now has three days to be completely moved out of the house that she and her husband lived in for 24 years.

For the sixth or seventh time in the last two years, I heard the story of broken dreams, lost homes and forced relocation. “My husband declared bankruptcy, and I took the tiny amount of equity I had here and bought a cabin in the mountains.” Her eyes darted from the pile of stuff, to the upper deck where her husband was wrangling the loud German Shepherd and yelling something incomprehensible, back to me: “please take anything you want, it all has to go.” I told her that it will get better, and it will; I said that I had been in a similar situation a couple of years ago, that it’s going to be OK. Somehow, though, there was something profoundly not OK about her situation, or mine, or the situation of all the others in our old neighborhood who were on the wrong side of the economic crisis that still plays out today.

This is something that most people do not want me to talk about, or write about, or even spend time thinking about. Either they tell me that I am not “accepting responsibility” for the situation I found myself in, or they patiently explain that this is how the economy and capitalism in general works (and I need to accept it, or move to a Communist country and starve) or they tell me to distract myself with other things, anything, because to fully contemplate what’s happened to so many of us in the last few years will only lead to depression and frustration. That’s true; I am depressed and frustrated, but mostly because I can’t start a meaningful conversation with anyone about what it feels like to lose your home, live paycheck to paycheck, and watch the homes in your neighborhood go up for auction to buyers who have all cash and plan to gut the house and turn it into a bland, Home Depot special for rent.

It feels like I have somehow failed in this culture, this community I live in. Maybe it’s like this all across the country; you’re supposed to hide any pain you feel about losing a home. You’re not a real adult if you have financial issues. Or, you’re a whining, ungrateful child because, after all, you have a good job and a nice rental home. Let me make something perfectly clear: I AM GRATEFUL that I have a good job and a nice, rental home to live in. I am not trying to turn myself into a victim for anyone’s pity. That’s not the point. The point is twofold: there is real trauma involved in financial hardship and in the loss of a home, and there is real confusion and pain when you watch outsiders come in, kick out families that have lived there for decades, destroy any historical charm the house may have had, gut it, “remodel” it and turn around and sell it for hugely inflated prices or convert it into a rental with a price tag almost no one can afford.

The pain, the loss, the confusion and the grief are real emotions that we have all been forced to sweep under the rug, because somehow, it’s not ‘serious’ enough to deserve anyone’s attention, or it’s our moral failings that created the problem in the first place: we’re irresponsible because we signed up for a bad loan; if we lose hours at work or end up divorced, we don’t deserve help or even support; after all, we are living in a world of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and if we are on the wrong side of the economic and social system, that’s just too bad. We “lost,” so we need to get over it and try harder next time to ‘win’. This is the attitude of our American culture: we deserve no support–emotionally, financially, spiritually or otherwise–for our losses (which were mostly beyond our control) because we somehow brought them on ourselves, and we deserve our fate.

I see the embarrassment and the shame of the person packing up her belongings and moving away after decades in their home. They have been banished because of lay-offs, deaths in the family, medical crises or other misfortune. At the root of the shame is the idea that we failed at the American Dream; never mind that foreign investors, landlords and massive real estate investment trusts have purchased that dream. It’s not their fault that they’ve displaced so many families, so many people who dedicated their lives to a particular community, who put down roots in a neighborhood and raised their children on a particular street and knew all their neighbors. Those companies without a face, those investors we never meet, are winning the game we call capitalism. Our entire system is predicated on winners and losers, and to question that is to be un-American and suspect.

I am not going to attempt to prove to anyone that I love my country. It’s enough to know that I dedicate my life to my students, I work for the betterment of my community through my church and the community center I founded here. Anyone who knows me knows how much I care about the people in and around my city. It’s damaging to that community when you have to leave your home, when you’re displaced from your neighborhood, when purchasing another home is impossible because housing prices are artificially inflated and when it seems as if the entire real estate industry is not about finding a family a home that they can afford, but about maximizing profits at all costs. People laugh at me for thinking that any business should care about anything else. Is it so naive to think that the American Dream should mean something? Is it so stupid of me to believe that we all benefit from strong and stable neighborhoods?

I don’t have a solution to this crisis, for it’s still a crisis for a great many people in the middle class. We struggle so terribly hard to hang on to that house, because that house becomes a reflection of us, a symbol of who we are, a monument to our dreams and hopes for the future. It’s not a soulless investment or a business opportunity. It’s an extension of WHO WE ARE, our very identity. Americans (and probably most people on the planet) have felt this way about our homes for a very, very long time; and I wonder if the powers that be depend on that very emotional attachment to make money. After all, most financial institutions are well aware that we’ll go broke attempting to save our home and end up losing it anyway. They, so to speak, ‘bank’ on our love for our little castles and our shame over losing them. They amass billions on our fear and shame. That makes me very, very sad.

Grief over loss of one’s home is not allowed, really, because when one compares that grief to losing a loved one, or receiving a terrifying medical diagnosis or even saying goodbye to an adored pet, it seems insignificant by comparison. It isn’t insignificant. I have lost loved ones, both human and feline; I have received terrifying medical diagnoses; I have been on the losing end of a terrible divorce; I have lost a job; I have endured much pain as a parent, and the list goes on. I can tell you that being forced out of a home and a neighborhood that defined you in so many ways as part of a community feels like exile, like a form of shaming. That deep, social shaming is largely unexplored in our culture. We don’t talk about it, we don’t feel comfortable admitting that we have ‘lost’ the game of success and ambition, and we try to hide how much it hurts.

This is why my old neighbors struggling with displacement from their homes and neighborhood avert their eyes when talking to me. This is why they try to end every conversation with something upbeat even if they don’t feel at all hopeful. This is also why, before they start crying, they turn away and end the conversation.

I can’t fix the economy for the middle class, I can’t do anything to help people keep their homes, I can’t stop the foreclosure process, I can’t change how capitalism works, but maybe I can lend a sympathetic ear or give some decent advice about life after short sale/foreclosure/bankruptcy. I can, at the very least, let people know that there is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to apologize for and no reason to add guilt to all the other emotions that can overwhelm you when you’re packing up your belongings and wondering what’s next. Even if one believes that it’s ‘our fault’ for not fully understanding the 2,000 page contract we signed or how the economy moves in boom and bust cycles, or what real estate valuations have been over the last century or so, or how banks work, or how houses are actually terrible investments for a single family, even if we didn’t ‘get’ that a huge recession was coming or didn’t know in advance that the government programs designed to ‘help’ us were NEVER going to be implemented by our banks, even if we were totally ignorant about how the financial system works, we should NOT be ashamed, embarrassed or silenced.  We didn’t understand the rules and lost the game. Most of us didn’t even realize, until it was too late, that we were in the game at all.

I have realized that the ‘spiritual dryness’ has hit me hard because I have repressed my grief, anger and pain; I have put a lid on those emotions because if feels unacceptable to admit the causes. When one’s general culture defines what is acceptable to grieve and what is not, you shut up and put up. When you feel that someone is about to condemn you for expressing pain over something undeserving and points to others much less fortunate than you, your sadness is compounded by guilt. All of this leads you to question yourself, to think that something is wrong with you, that you need to spend your time and energy figuring out how to break into the 1% and stop sniveling about your loser status in the 99%. Spiritual dryness is the result of the forces in the culture that do not acknowledge a reality that you know has evicted thousands, millions (?) of people from the places where they felt safe, from the homes where they were creating their lives.

If you want to respond to this, please do. If you want to tell your own story, please do. Respond in the comments, and if you want, you can have my private email so that we can keep this conversation going. We can help each other, but not if first we don’t hear each other.

Much love to you all,

Kirsten

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http://www.thenation.com/slideshow/slide-show-great-recession

My long silence here at Soulbank is due to a crisis.

That is, a financial, emotional, and ultimately spiritual crisis: losing my home. This upheaval is also about realizing how capitalism works; how the Big Banks work; and how little we—the homeowners, the workers—can do about it. Soon, God knows exactly when–a mortgage servicer called IndyMac—a subsidiary of OneWest—will own my home. Some private investors through Deutsche Bank hold the note on my loan. I don’t know who they are, these people behind my loan. I have no idea to whom I actually owe money. It seems that no one I speak to knows, either.

It all started when I realized, in consultation with Real Estate Attorney #2—that the adjustable rate on my loan had a hard to find clause that added 2.75% to my monthly payments starting in November. So, something mysterious called LIBOR fixed the mortgage rate for a year, but those extra percentage points (where did they come from? who decided to add them, and why?) will kick up the payment to an amount impossible to pay. Of course, my extremely strange loan allows me to pay 40% of that payment and tack the extra principle to my loan amount, but at some point the whole thing would recast yet again, and I would have 18 years to pay off a $700,000 loan on a house worth, in the best of all worlds, $500,000. I am not taking the second mortgage into consideration. Add that in, and the payment in five years would be staggering.

So, the question quickly became the following: when would you like to lose your house? You could lose it over the next few months, or you could lose it in a few years, when there will be no more Mortgage Forgiveness Act (for those of you who don’t know, when the bank forecloses on your home, you must pay taxes on the difference between what you owe the lender and what the house sold for at auction; that difference is counted as income, even though you will never see a penny of it), which expires at the end of this year, but will more than likely be renewed for 2014. I realized that my home, my family’s home, the place where my kid grew up and where we threw the annual Halloween party, the house that nurtured my marriage and my spirit, was an impossible dream. This is a tale of two houses, mine and IndyMac’s.
My house is a place of refuge and peace. My house is a home for those I love, a place of great spirituality and beauty. My house is not a commodity, but a sanctuary.

For IndyMac, my house is a bad investment that needs to be disposed of and reassigned to another investor. For IndyMac, my home is a place that no one from that ‘servicing company’ will ever see. It is an opportunity to make money from fees, fines, and impounds. Not only does no one from IndyMac/OneWest/Deutsche Bank care that this property represents my sweat, blood and tears, they count on my sentimentality to make more money. The more desperately I cling to my home, the more willing I will be to pay them whatever they ask in order to keep it.

They have made a complete mockery of the loan modification programs that keep people like me on an endless treadmill of panic and confusion. For almost two years, I tried to modify this loan. I consulted attorneys and financial consultants. Everyone, in the end, told me to run, not walk, from this loan and these lenders. IndyMac appeared to relent a few months ago (after extensive financial counseling through HUD), and after years of refusing to modify the loan, they sent out a package of papers to start the process. We put it together and sent it out. Oddly, they claimed there were ‘missing documents’. I knew that there were no missing documents. That seemed strange. Then I started to research the history of this company and was utterly shocked by what I read. Try typing in “IndyMac fraud” into a Google search, and you will be floored by the overwhelming stories of deception, deceit and manipulation of the loan modification process. I can’t write about all of it here. Suffice to say, only a tiny fraction of IndyMac’s loans are ever modified, and that seems to be only when you harass them daily and involve your senators and congressional representatives in the fight.

I’m exhausted. Never have I slept less and cried more. We decided—upon advice of IndyMac, who said no help would be forthcoming until we had missed two or more payments—to stop paying the mortgage. Not that we believe for an instant that IndyMac will help us; we simply want them to hurry up and take our home, to get this nightmare over with, so that we can move on with our lives and not spend every waking moment in fear. In the end, the best outcome of this monumental game with the banks is for them to take our home, trash my credit, and allow us a new beginning. I used to want to do anything and everything to save my home; but now I realize how high the emotional cost will be of an elaborate chess game with IndyMac that I am 99% certain to lose. Do I put my spiritual well-being at risk for such a small chance of success? I don’t think I can.

The real cost of the recession is, for me, a spiritual one. For years, I did what I was told: pay your loans, no matter what the terms, whether you understand them or not. Then, I was downsized and lost a significant portion of my income. For a time, the same thing happened to my husband. I cleared out all old retirement accounts and every penny we had in savings to pay IndyMac. Finally, when the money was gone and the writing was on the wall, I had to confront some hard truths: your home was purchased with fluff and lies. Your home was never yours. It was a place you occupied until the reality of our national crisis hit hard, and you realized that in times of crisis, your summer school classes, your overload, your winter session classes, were not priorities. All that extra money you poured into your home was wasted, and accomplished nothing but buy you a little time on a sinking ship.

What is the spiritual cost of losing your job, or of losing even part of your job? What is the cost of losing your home? Everything you believed was sacred– Education, Home, Country–comes crashing down around you. In a crisis, no one cares whether or not your students learn a second language. In a crisis, no one cares if you get to stay in your home. Everything seems so strange right now, so contingent and unmoored. It seems like everything solid melts into air. Perhaps all these institutions—work, home—are just illusions that keep us going from one day to the next, contributing to an Economy that relies on our production and property to move it forward . . . but to what? What is the end goal? In the end, my job and my house are not permanent or necessary, just the structure for my life. My life has to be about much more than a place to live and a place to work. Whether one decides that God is your ultimate reality or someone or something else, you certainly can’t tie your life to the vagaries of your college, your office, or your four walls with a roof and a perfect location. If you do, you will go mad when it all disappears, and everything disappears. You can’t hold on, or the continuously moving tide will drown you. Better to die now to this illusion than to live believing that false idols define your identity.

Education as a goal and an ideal exists even when my classes disappear or the administration doesn’t care what I do, or even notice. Home exists even when banks repossess a house. The beauty of nature exists even though you lose your view of the hills. What matters goes far beyond the particulars of your situation to the universal concepts we hold in such high regard.

So: IndyMac, you may sell my house at an auction, but you will never sell the love, the happiness and the sheer joy of the home my family and I created together. That comes with us, and no one will ever, ever take it from us.

–Kirsten

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