I received a telephone call from my mother, who lives in a rather nice suburb of Hartford, Conn., and she sounded more than a bit perturbed. ‘Do you remember that weird house across from the park where I walk the dog?’ she asked me.
I recalled the house in question, because it was my favorite unofficial landmark in her neighborhood: a funky-weird eyesore that resembled the residence of the Addams Family.
‘Well, the house is in foreclosure,’ my mother said. ‘There's a sign outside of the house stating that.’
My mother was more than aware of the press reports that upwards of two million homes were facing the threat of foreclosure due to the collapse of the subprime market and the subsequent butterfly effect it had on other aspects of the economy. But the severity of the crisis didn't truly resonate with her until that wacky house in her neighborhood fell into foreclosure. Until you see a crisis firsthand, you don't realize the depth and scope of the issue.
I know, because I've been there and done that. Back in 1984, I was working as a journalist at the United Nations, and I reported on the aid efforts being coordinated to stave off famine in Ethiopia. But my reports came from U.N. headquarters in New York, and I was working with emotionless data. Not seeing the crisis firsthand, the U.N.-issued statements on the threat to millions of people were just a bunch of words and numbers. But when the first television broadcasts came from Ethiopia that showed the human suffering brought by famine, the enormity of the crisis resonated with a vengeance.
In today's foreclosure crisis, some parts of the country have already been shaken to the point that local governments need to step in to prevent neighborhoods from becoming boarded-up blights. Ohio and Massachusetts appear to be taking aggressively proactive leads, trying to preserve and maintain abandoned properties rather than losing them (and the surrounding neighborhoods) to decay or worse.
But in other parts of the country, the crisis is only now beginning to permeate with stealthy quiet. Since that telephone call, my mother informed me of another house in her neighborhood that went into foreclosure. That was literally close to home – four blocks down from her residence. The following Sunday, she opened the real estate section of the Hartford Courant (the area's major daily newspaper) and looked through the section on foreclosed homes that were up for sale. That section stretched six pages, and the following week it was up to nine pages. By national standards, Connecticut is relatively low in the state rankings of foreclosed properties.
I don't know where and when the foreclosure crisis is going to end. I am optimistic that industry-spearheaded efforts such as HOPE NOW and Project Lifeline and the Department of Housing and Urban Development's FHASecure will make a significant and positive impact and keep families in their homes.
But time is not our ally, and public confidence in the industry and the general economy will be eroded further if the foreclosure rates continue to rise. All it takes to shake public confidence is the sudden and unexpected appearance of a single foreclosed property where it is least expected.
And if you don't believe me, ask my mother!
– Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive
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