Foreclosure's Disappearing Act 

I'm seeing more and more houses with The Look: Empty windows, a few pieces of debris on the front lawn, no cars. Soon a "For Sale" sign will go up and then, inevitably, "For Rent."

This area of the Shenandoah Valley houses a lot of blue collar families. The current wave of bankruptcies and foreclosures is caused by record lay offs at area manufacturing plants. I'm more sensitive to this since my family was among the previous wave — construction and incendiary workers who were the casualties when first victims — the subprime mortgagees — imploded after the housing bubble burst.

And the dominoes are still falling.

On my rural road, before I get to the state highway, I pass ten such houses in a five-mile stretch. I can't help but wonder where the families went. And can't help envisioning vultures circling every time I see another vacant house.

Rentals around here are as high as a mortgage payment and usually require a credit check. The law of supply and demand has no effect as row upon row of houses sit vacant. I have to wonder what kind of bargain these owners got on the foreclosure that it's more economical for the mortgage holder — you can't assume it's a bank anymore — to have the house sit vacant than to rent it out.

So where have they gone?

A family down the road from us just disappeared. I noticed because they had a house full of teens and pre-teens and one day they were all gathered in the carport — I thought it was a birthday party or something. But the next day, the house had The Look. I asked Heir 2 if he'd seen any of the kids at school.

He shrugged. "Not anymore, now that you mention it. They kinda disappeared."

It's the language of the Dustbowl during the Great Depression: displaced families "disappearing."

Only this is 2008 and we should know better. If this were any other issue or cause, there would be support groups set up in every church and hospital. There is one for every disease and every traumatic event that can befall a human being. They have them for alcoholics, gamblers, and overeaters.

There is only one reason no one cares what happens to a family faced with foreclosure: shame and fear.

The shame is on the part of those who have lost their houses. We don't need anyone to tell us we screwed up. It's the last thing we think of at night if we're able to fall asleep and it's the first thing we beat ourselves up with in the morning. The shame silences us and makes us hide.

The fear is on the part of everyone else. Those of us who have lost our homes are castigated for "buying more house than we could afford" or for being "shopaholics" but even the staunchest fiscal conservative knows it's just not at that simple. And, because it's not that simple, it could happen to anyone — a bad business decision at the wrong time, an illness that goes on longer than expected, or perhaps just being the next domino in line to tumble.

As for me, I will acknowledge that I am not homeless only by luck of the draw. We have family around us acting as our safety net. We lucked into a landlord who saw to it that not only wasn't my family forced to separate, but that we didn't have to sacrifice our pets. I can say with confidence that my family will never be out on the street, not because of any outstanding character trait of my own, but because Dirtman and I happen to be born into supportive families.

But I don't for a minute claim any of this as a virtue. These are blessings. I had no more to do with possessing them than I had to do with where and when I was born.

So it baffles me that those who have stumbled during this round of hard times are being judged by people whose bad decisions just happen to be made under better circumstances or who lucked into a job not affected by the economy or who — for any myriad of fortuitous events that resulted in their having money when others do not — are holding their own in a time of economic upheaval.

Equally baffling are the vitriolic attacks and nasty comments aimed in our direction. Because, unlike failing banks and the auto industry, we are not descending on Congress, hat in hand, asking to be bailed out; we are not asking for sympathy; we are not, in fact, asking for anything.

We are silent and we just disappear.

Copyright © 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.


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