Thursday, April 10, 2008

Detroit's Foreclosure Crisis: Interview With Community Activist Sandra Hines

WW interviews victim of home foreclosure & eviction

By Kris Hamel
Published Apr 10, 2008 1:24 AM

Every disaster has its victims. When tornados, floods and other natural catastrophes occur, the media is filled with images of devastated neighborhoods and grief-stricken people who have lost everything, whose homes and belongings are gone and lives changed forever.

But absent in the portrayal of the foreclosure and eviction crisis caused by the bankers is the human toll of being forced out of one’s home. The media show no pictures of evictions, of belongings accumulated over a lifetime being thrown to the curb like so much trash, of people with nowhere to go whose lives have been turned upside down.

The home foreclosure epidemic raging across the U.S. is staggering in magnitude. In Detroit, a primarily African-American city suffering from plant shutdowns, joblessness and poverty, the statistics are overwhelming.

In 2007, Detroit’s Wayne County had the highest number of new foreclosure filings in the U.S.—almost 73,000 homes, a 68 percent increase from a year earlier. The foreclosure rate in Detroit is 10 percent, with some neighborhoods as high as 17 percent. In Michigan as a whole, lenders filed 136,205 new foreclosures last year, representing almost 2 percent of all homes in the state.

But numbers, rates and statistics alone do not begin to tell the story of the human tragedy involved.

Sandra Hines is 54 years old, a lifelong Detroit resident and social worker who is currently unemployed. She is active in the Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and ran for the Detroit Board of Education last year on a grassroots platform advocating for students. Hines graciously told Workers World her painful story of being foreclosed and evicted from the home her family owned for 37 years.

WW: Tell us about the home you and your sister lost to foreclosure.

Hines: At the time my parents moved into that northwest Detroit neighborhood, it was when poor people had begun to gather up money to migrate to the better areas in the city. It was 1970 and white people were leaving the city and Black people moving into neighborhoods that had once been influential neighborhoods where white folks lived. It was like growing up together, the families that eventually migrated into those communities.

The house had already been paid for when our mother passed three years ago. My sister and her daughter and son were living with my mother at the time.

My sister, a worker at the General Motors Cadillac plant, was on disability from GM, but continued to try to maintain the taxes and repairs. But GM reduced her disability check in half. That’s when she refinanced, because her income was cut and we needed money for family needs and home repairs. That was the whole purpose of getting the house refinanced.

But she got caught up in one of those lending situations with an adjustable rate mortgage and wasn’t fully aware of what was going on in terms of having to pay that money back. When it comes down to how these loan contracts are written, and you don’t know there’s a clause in it—do you know how many pages some of these are? They’re inches thick and the lender just says, “Sign here.”

Some of the repairs were made, a new furnace put in, electrical work was done, but then things started getting away from us. We couldn’t continue to maintain. We came together as a family and tried to get a lawyer to sue these refinance people, but it was too late.

My sister received a letter from the finance company saying we had 56 days and needed to vacate the premises. The 56 days passed with no word. No eviction notice was sent to us or any of that. Finally the eviction notice did show up in November last year. They didn’t evict us until the week before Christmas.

WW: What happened that day?

Hines: The bailiff and his team showed up. We weren’t at home, and they broke into the house. The neighbors called my sister and told her they had brought a dumpster and were taking furniture out. The neighbor said they took the stove and pulled it down the stairs by the cord. They took the refrigerator out and just threw it over the dumpster.

My mother had a lot of antique furniture. They just scarred and scratched up my mother’s wooden furniture, an antique bedroom set that was passed down from another generation. They tore the furniture up. And it was the coldest day of last year, the first snow that we had. That was the day they did it.

WW: How did you feel as this was taking place?

Hines: It’s hard to describe. It was kind of a surreal state. I was numb. It’s almost like a death. You feel helpless. You’re embarrassed, humiliated, angry, disgusted, all of those kinds of feelings. And then there’s the neighborhood, the disconnect with all those people you’ve been accustomed to over the years. We lost a lot of stuff, lost the community that we knew. It causes depression, stress and physical ailments, not to mention a lot of shame. You feel bad for people to know you’ve been evicted.

It’s all my mother ever talked about, that the house would be paid for and we would have a house to live in when she died. My mother worked hard. She made sacrifices to keep that house. And then to lose the house like that.

WW: What did you do then?

Hines: We ended up moving into a home that one of our relatives owned. Otherwise, we would have been homeless. We were fortunate that we had some relatives who had real estate.

I think about that. I can’t imagine—I think about single mothers with young children, whole families with nowhere to go.

A lot of people have ended up homeless because of this experience. Where are they? Every neighborhood is ravaged by 10 or 15 abandoned homes. There’s not a neighborhood you go to in the city of Detroit where there’s not “for sale” signs all up and down the street. Where are those people?

WW: What do you have to tell people who are facing foreclosure or who are worried about being laid off and losing their homes?

Hines: People are going to have to mobilize and organize around the foreclosure issue and demand that the state and the federal government do what’s necessary to fix the problem. It doesn’t appear that anything is really in place now to truly help people. The only thing I can see as a solution is a moratorium, that people band together as one major force to call for a moratorium. That’s the only alternative.

WW: How can we press the government to enact a moratorium?

Hines: It’s going to have to be more real people involved who have actually experienced what we have experienced. I think you’re really going to have to bring those people together so the government will really see the magnitude. We’re talking about it, but we’re not seeing pictures of people who’ve been evicted. We haven’t seen any pictures of where people have ended up, whether it be in shelters or out on the streets.

We need to document and see people actually being put out of their homes. People need to tell the stories of how they’ve been tricked out of their home by these predatory lending companies. There needs to be a face put on it—real people and the behind-the-scenes effects of what’s happened to them and how people have been ravaged.

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