Millions of US families threatened with eviction

Millions of US families are being threatened with eviction from their homes, some because they cannot pay their mortgages and others because their landlords cannot pay theirs. Now a County Sheriff in Illinois, has refused to carry out any more evictions.

Millions of US families are being threatened with eviction from their homes, some because they cannot pay their mortgages and others because their landlords cannot pay theirs. Now a County Sheriff in Illinois, has refused to carry out any more evictions.

Photo by threecee on flickr
Anti-Eviction Block Party, Brooklyn, New York

"Perhaps no part of our job is as difficult as the work done by our eviction units. On any given day, our deputies could be asked to throw a family out of their home, with all of their possessions left on a curb ‑ sometimes pilfered through by those living nearby", says Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. "Where mortgage firms see pieces of paper, my deputies see people," he adds.

And he goes on to explain his reasons: "No matter how difficult they are, evictions are part of our job. What isn't part of our job, however, is to carry out work on behalf of the multi-billion-dollar banks and mortgage industries. Too many times, our deputies arrive at a home to carry out a mortgage foreclosure eviction, only to find a tenant ‑ dutifully paying their rent each month ‑ who is unaware their landlord stopped using that rent money to pay the mortgage. They had no fair warning that they were about to be thrown out of their home. That's because, in many cases, the banks have done nothing to determine, in advance, who's living in the building ‑ even though it's required by state law. Instead, those banks expect taxpayers to pay for that investigative work for them. That stops today. We won't be doing the banks' work for them anymore. We won't surprise tenants with an eviction order intended for their landlord." (See Sheriff Dart explains why he refuses to evict tenants, Chicago Sun-Times)

This year alone, nearly three-quarters of a million people in the US have been evicted from their homes already. In September alone, more than 107,500 were evicted, according to's U.S. Foreclosures Index. The figures show a sharp rise in the number of home-owners affected. "Foreclosures are up 6.6% from August to September, 25.8% from the second quarter to the third quarter, and 82.6% year-to-date compared with the same time a year ago. Foreclosures remain on track to surpass 1 million by year-end" according to a MarketWatch analysis of the figures. The same report shows that the number of pre-foreclosures  ‑ which include notices of default and/or foreclosure auction prior to actual foreclosure ‑ should end up a record 2 million. This means that a total of 3 million US families will be either evicted or threatened with eviction by the end of this year.

A report in the Wall Street Journal on October 8th showed that nearly 1 in 6 home owners in the US are "under water", they owe more on their houses than their current value, after house prices have fallen by up to 30% in some areas. This represents 12 million households, or 16% of all US home-owners, a massive increase from 4% who found themselves in this situation two years ago.

When you have a look at these figures, you can realise why the bail-out of the banks passed by Congress was met with such an angry reaction on the part of ordinary US workers.

Some of those worst hit by foreclosures and evictions are those who were the victims of the predatory and fraudulent tactics of the sellers of sub-prime mortgages.

On October 3rd, Addie Polk, a 90 year old pensioner in Akron, Ohia, shot herself twice as sheriffs were coming to evict her. She had lived in her house since 1970 and, together with her husband, had already paid it off by 1982, just before retiring. In 2004 she had financial difficulties and went to Countrywide Home Loan and signed a 30-year mortgage for $45,620 and took out an $11,380 line of credit. She was 86. Then she began missing payments and last year Countrywide filed for foreclosure. The home was sold at auction to Fannie Mae earlier this year for $28,000, and sheriff's deputies began delivering eviction notices.

Countrywide was one of the worst players in the sub-prime mortgage market, becoming the country's largest mortgage broker and collapsed last year. Luckily, in this case, Addie Polk survived and Fannie Mae has now agreed to forgive her loan.

In July, Carlene Balderrama, 53, a mother of one in Taunton, Massachusetts, sent a fax to her mortgage company: "By the time you foreclose on my house, I'll be dead". When police officers arrived at her home, she was dead, having shot herself with her husband's rifle.

Tent cities have already emerged throughout the country, in Fresno, Reno, Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Columbus, etc.

The crisis is also hitting the middle classes. On October 6th, CBS carried the story of Ross DeMona. Two years ago she bought a five-bedroom, three-bath, luxury home with an indoor pool. She worked as a real state investor and could afford the mortgage payments of $2700 a month. But then her business collapsed while at the same time mortgage repayments jumped to $4900 a month. Now the house has been foreclosed and she received an eviction notice last month.

Car sleeper in California
Car sleeper in California

All these economic shocks to millions of people, many of whom believed they had realised the American dream, are already having a profound impact on consciousness. Even Ross DeMona says: "Bush is only concerned about the AIGs of the world. They're not concerned about the public. It's a win-win-win-win situation for them and it's a lose for me."

In wealthy Santa Barbara, CA, the city council has cleared 12 parking lots for homeless people who live in their cars. Amongst them are Craig Miller, his wife Paige and two children, living in a small mobile home. "The family used to own a four-bedroom house with a pool. But when Craig's business failed, they lost it," reports the BBC. Barbara Harvey, a 67 year old mother of three, former loan processor, lost her home in March this year after being laid off. She now lives in a small Honda in the same Santa Barbara parking lot.

An outreach worker in Santa Barbara is quoted as saying: "These people have worked their whole lives to have a house and now it's crumbling and it's in ashes and how devastating is that? It's not an American dream, it's an American nightmare."

This is the basis for the development of a deep and long lasting mood of questioning of the validity of the capitalist system itself. And this is only the beginning.

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