As housing prices keep tumbling, the number of underwater mortgages continues to rise. The phenomenon, which further slows economic recovery, is attracting local attention.
The Miami Herald reported on Saturday that as many as 40 percent of borrowers in South Florida owe more on their home than the house is worth. In St. Louis, underwater homes jumped from one-fifth in the third quarter to one-third in the most recent one.
Borrowers stuck in such homes face a daunting question: Do I keep shoveling money into this housing hole, or do I cut it loose? The dilemma has deep financial, legal and moral components to it. HuffPost interviewed roughly 50 homeowners who have been wrestling with that question over the past year. Excerpts:
The hostility people felt from their banks made the decision to walk away easier for many, and some now even revel in it, celebrating a break from a system they see as rigged against them. "We get daily calls from creditors and banks that threaten this and that, and I just laugh knowing I am helping to bring down the system that has brought us all down and continues to reap giant profits at the expense of the little guy," said one. Others are still haunted with shame by the decision. Most said they felt a mix of both.
Many of the homeowners said they felt alone and powerless in their interactions with the banks and were curious to hear what other people in similar situations had to say. "There should be support groups for people who have to deal with these banks," said Richmond Burton, 50, a soon-to-be-former resident of Long Island's East Hampton. "It can drive you crazy. I'm very good at dealing with pressure, and they made it feel like you're at their mercy."
The story led to gatherings across the country. "We're all looking for something to take some action on to effect some change," Kristen Emery of Palo Alto, Calif., told HuffPost in an interview Tuesday night.
HuffPost has scheduled the next meetup for the second Tuesday in March. Each subsequent meeting will also be held on the second Tuesday of the month. To modify those plans locally, find the chapter nearest you.
Emery, who previously worked as a mortgage loan officer, told HuffPost she could no longer do the job in good conscience, and that she organized the Palo Alto meetup in hopes of finding others who felt similarly disenchanted. "Come hell or high water we've gotta do something different," she said.
At the first Palo Alto meetup in early February, Emery said, the common trait of each attendee seemed to be a dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire to take action to make a difference in the current state of affairs, especially looking forward to the 2012 presidential election. One meetup attendee, electrical engineer Harvey Miller, said the nation needs to focus on what action to take going forward. Another, James Adams, talked about his struggle with Chase Bank, the servicer of his mortgage loan, and floated the idea of protesting in front of some local Chase branches to get some attention for the issue.
That Friday he drew up a sign -- "Chase Bank will steal your home," it read. "They stole mine!" -- and parked himself in front of a Chase Bank on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. Emery showed up to take photos, and The Palo Alto Free Press' Mark Petersen-Perez came by to interview Adams about losing a home to foreclosure:
Some of you wondered how to sign up for a local meetup or schedule your own, so HuffPost has compiled a selection of frequently asked questions:
Q: How do I find a meetup near me?
A: Follow HuffPost's link to find your local chapter, type your town and state into the search box in the upper right-hand corner, and click 'Go.' The meetup scheduled nearest you will automatically show up. It may not be in your neighborhood, however, since the system is designed to foster a critical mass of participants by showing meetups in your area with the most activity.
Q. I want to go to a meetup, but I don't see one that's close enough to me. How do I start a new meetup in my town?
A. If you do not see a scheduled meetup that is close enough to you, you can create your own by following the directions above, and then, when presented with the locations nearest you, scroll down a bit and click on 'Show 10 more.' Having clicked on that, scroll all the way to the bottom of the list where you'll find a button that says 'Start a new community in [your location].' Click and follow the prompts.
Q. I am looking at this meetup but there's no specified venue -- does that mean the meetup is not happening?
A. All it means is that you have to suggest a location. The meetup may not happen unless you make it happen. To suggest a location in a meetup that doesn't already have one, click 'Suggest the place' in the 'Where' section of the event details. If other people want to meet somewhere else, you can hash it out with them in the comments section.
Choosing a venue can help boost turnout; the sooner you suggest a place, the better.
Q. How do I get more people to come to my meetup?
A. Promote it! Tweet it, Facebook it, call up your friends and tell them about the meetup. The more you mobilize your own community, the better the meetup will be.
Q. What should we do at the meetup? Just talk, get drinks, eat?
A. Anything you want. We hope people to come together to talk about their mortgage problems and find solutions together.
If you want to cover a meetup as a citizen journalist or are a real estate expert, attorney or someone interested in organizing an event but having trouble getting it started, email us at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Rebecca Harrington contributed to this report.