The current mortgage crisis is not only destroying individual families, but whole neighborhoods too. And the neighborhoods that are being destroyed, at least in NYC, are the very neighborhoods that try so hard to "make it," but can't seem to catch a break for long.
That's the very important message in a terrific story in today's NY Times written by veteran reporter and Bronx native David Gonzalez.
Gonzalez spent "shoe leather" time in the Bronx, talking to local storeowners and residents in the Williamsbridge neighborhood (and others), and what he found was alarming: people can't afford to fix their houses or buy more furniture because every cent, in many cases, is going to pay off a bad mortgage. This story is important because it's one of the first stories I've seen that actually documents the "domino effect" that the mortgage crisis has already started to have in many neighborhoods.
The math for this is really quite simple: bad mortgages = financial crisis for families = less money spent in the neighborhood on things like furniture and home improvements = businesses and shops that have to close = neighborhoods that will soon look like they did in the "bad old days" of the early 80's.
Gonzalez also spent some time with a mortgage counselor at the North Bronx office of Neighborhood Housing Services of NYC. NHS, one of the largest non-profit housing groups in the City, is 25 years old and provides homeownership education, financial assistance and community leadership. It's a unique group because NHS is led by local residents and guided by local needs. And so, as you can imagine, NHS has been nearly overwhelmed by the number of people seeking assistance; some people are already in foreclosure, some are worried that soon they'll be unable to keep up with their payments, and others come in to try to avoid trouble altogether.
And if you think this scenario couldn't possibly happen to you or anyone you know, think again. Many of the families now caught up in the mortgage mess are solidly middle class. They have jobs as civil servants, police officers, school aides, nurses. Their only crime - pursuing the American dream and believing that those who offered them a piece of that dream, home ownership, were experts and were sincere.