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You Too Can Lose a Million-Dollar Home

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Below is the final installment of a five-part series, Too Little to Save, in which the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) highlights a family and describes their struggles with foreclosure.

Mr. and Mrs. Henriquez have two sons, ages four and seven, and live in the Central Valley of California. They lost their home to foreclosure because Mrs. Henriquez had to close down her business. She ultimately had to give up working entirely to care for her autistic son:

I owned my own business and then everything went bad. So I went back to school. And then my son -- my younger son was diagnosed with autism. I had to be -- stay at home. So we lost one income.

Mrs. Henriquez explains that these financial challenges have strained their marriage; divorce was a consideration at one point:

My husband and I [were] fighting because there's [not] enough money. There was a lot of [discussion] before we bought a house. We talk about it and then, you know, "I told you, you were not supposed to do this and you did it." Blaming each other, like who was at fault. That "you're supposed to get a job," but I need to stay with my kids, so.

After four moves, the Henriquez family finally found a rental house that they describe as stable and adequate for their needs. However, their multiple moves leading up to that point caused great stress and frustration. The kids resented having to move away from their friends. In addition, the autistic son needed a room in the house for his therapy, which he did not have in the unstable housing arrangements prior to their current living arrangement:

The children changing schools, or you have to drive them to the school before, so -- very unstable situation. With the kids, they -- the older one doesn't want to lose [his] friends. They need to move to another place. Or when you are--you know, when I moved in with my mom, the room was so little for us.

The older son changed schools three times. Mrs. Henriquez describes his behavior and the resulting phone calls from school:

I think he has been changed in a negative way. More defiant in school. You know, because they have called me, the teachers, and he was pretty mellow and now he is, not bad fighting or anything, but just defiant. Just not wanting to do work or just not finishing or not paying attention. Things like that.

In a last-ditch effort to save their home, the Henriquez family put mortgage payments on their credit cards:

I used the credit cards to make the payments for the house...I was not in debt at all, you know. So, I used my credit cards to make the house payment.

They also discovered that they still carry substantial debt even after the foreclosure process:

Well, we still -- I don't really understand. I thought the foreclosure was supposed to take care of everything, but they told me no, only one of them. So I still owe like $50,000, close to $60,000.

Mrs. Henriquez described being steered into an expensive loan by her real estate agent. That changed her perspective on the American Dream:

Well, it changed completely. You had a dream and that's the word these people [use]; tell you "you could do it" and give you this loan. And now you are back, worse than you were before. I got a phone call...[The] real estate agencies [said] we'll come out and it was in Spanish, my language―They said, "We can help you, just go to the house, we'll let you know and soon if you can qualify or not." So we say yes, why not? And then, he came to our home...We said what kind of house can I afford? And his answer was, "If you want a million-dollar house, I can give [it to] you." That was his answer. Whatever you want. And I said well, my question is what can I afford? And, and he said, "You just let me know how much you want to pay."

Mrs. Henriquez believes achieving the American Dream for her family may be possible, though in the distant future; it "seems very far away."

The nation and its decision-makers find themselves at a critical point in history. The economic crisis that continues to push families out of their homes is a call to action to create safe and better pathways to homeownership. The Henriquez family lost their home due to job loss and unsound brokerage and lending practices. Congress has a chance to institute concrete solutions, such as mandatory loss mitigation, to protect the hard-earned dollars of those seeking an honest and sustainable mortgage. We can only hope that they accept this challenge to exceed the status quo.

Has your life been affected by the risk of foreclosure? If so, please share your experience. Contributing to this project will help decision-makers better understand the depth of this continued foreclosure crisis and take better steps to address it. Your personal story could impact their decisions!

Click here for the previous installment of Too Little to Save.