Jim Rokakis has been our Treasurer for quite some time. I had no idea how eloquently he could write a story. The Washington Post's Outlook section featured an article he wrote today. The article is about everyone wanting the American Dream, not having enough money to get it, and then being given false hope that a loan can in fact make you a 'part of' that Dream.
There are parts of the article that make me uncomfortable, because he talks about predators and that includes Realtors®. He talks about Ohio's NAR lobbying against predatory lending legislation a few years ago. Regardless of how reputable I feel I am, it's hard not to feel uncomfortable when anyone in my industry makes all of us look bad.
I grew up on the outskirts of Slavic Village, the neighborhood he features. I was part of the lower middle class community, as a kid, with not a lot of throw away money to be had but a meal on the table a squeaky clean house and a neighborhood that watched out for all of us. You know, the part of the American Dream. We all had a sense of place, a sense of community. I personally think it all went wrong when the stakes kept getting higher; you know, the material evidence you could show people that proved you were still attaining the American Dream.
It's when Jim Rokakis talks about the human face attached to this predatory lending/foreclosure debacle that I started to cry:
"....In my county, more than 74,000 homeowners have filed for property tax reductions this year -- people like the elderly woman on Berry Avenue on Cleveland's west side who brought me a beautiful photo montage of her well-maintained home, sitting in the midst of abandoned houses. She sobbed quietly as she explained that she had spent thousands of dollars on upkeep and on improving the property. That's money she will never get back. We've all read about the losses at investment-banking firms like Bear Stearns, but we don't read about that woman on Berry Avenue...."
My experience with this begain last February, dealing with dozens of phone calls from people with desperation in their voices, trying to figure out how to get out of the predatory lending mess they were in. People too scared to call their lenders, people who realized they had been sold homes at the highest prices, over market value, by people involved in scams who represented themselves as agents, lenders, and reputable title company representatives. In the worst cases, there were no agents/Realtors® involved, they were simply approached by 'someone' who said they would give them money if they would put their names on a title and be a part of an effort to allow others who can't afford to buy do a rent with option to own and work for a year, paying them rent, and then buying the home.
Of course we know this sounds a lot like the Nigerian scams we still get in our emails every day. But to someone who needs quick money, or who always wanted to be a part of the American Dream, I guess the allure was too good to pass up.
Back to the article. Jim Rokakis equates the foreclosure mess that has been going on in the Slavic Village neighborhood for years, on the decimation of the community, the loss of sense of place and neighborhood cohesiveness. And he blames this in part on the death of a young girl who was caught in cross fire between two bad guys.
He explains the crisis' cost to cities this way:
"....Unfortunately, none of these bills addresses the costs to cities associated with maintaining, policing and, in the most dire case, demolishing neighborhoods such as Slavic Village. One bill introduced in Congress would allocate $100 million over the next three years to help with demolition costs -- a number that met with peals of laughter at a conference on vacant properties that I attended in Pittsburgh last week. "Add a zero," one participant suggested...."
I can remember conversations on AR a year ago when people said 'well, gee, that's too bad about all those foreclosures in your area but that is not happening here.' and in some cases, thankfully for you, it probably still isn't. But none of us exists in a vacuum. The crisis (and it is a crisis) affects the entire Country economically.....in the same way the crisis affected our own community microcosm of Slavic Village.
Also pertinent: A Call To Arms Homeowners In A Bind Can Call Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland and Callahan's Cleveland Diary Peace Out - 3C
Sunday October 7th Update: There will be a mtg on this issue and I wanted to post the info here:
Cleveland Councilwoman Nina Turner, who represents the Lee Harvard neighborhood, will hold a financial-education seminar at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to help residents avoid foreclosure. Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis will attend along with representatives from several banks and the Cleveland Housing Network. The seminar will be at the Harvard Community Services Center, 18240 Harvard Ave.