Millions of Americans are facing a bleak holiday new year as they wait to hear if the banks will foreclose on their homes.
The US economy is still struggling to get going again after the global financial collapse of 2008.
The recovery has been slow – and lacking in sufficient new jobs – while home prices remain at historically low levels.
I have just come back from the Midwestern state of Minnesota, where over twenty five thousand people lost their homes to foreclosure last year.
“Look what’s that?” “Say alligator” “Alligator!”
That’s Monique White who is playing with her grandson, Deshaun, in the Minneapolis home her late dad helped her buy in 2003… but which she might be about to lose.
Raising two sons and a grandchild, she is proud to be the first in her family to own a home.
When the US economy tanked, Monique was initially told her job as a youth counsellor was safe … but in February 2010 that changed. Monique told me.
“It was over two thousand people including myself … that lost their jobs … due to budget cuts.”
Monique says she spends the best part of everyday looking for work.
“It is really hard now to get these jobs, I mean there are jobs out there but they are not hiring.”
The unemployment rate in Minnesota is really quite low – it hovers around six per cent – a little over two per cent less than the national average – but for African-Americans, employment disparity, the difference between white employment and black employment is the greatest in the country – three times greater!
Monique managed to keep a part time job in a liquor store but it wasn’t enough.
She fell behind on her mortgage payments and the bank foreclosed on her despite efforts to renegotiate the loan, she says.
“I am not asking for a handout. I am not saying give me my house for free. Basically what I am asking is to sit down with me, be reasonable, rewrite my loan and make it affordable for me to keep my house.”
The bank refused and threatened to evict her in late November.
Her mortgage is worth one hundred thousand dollars but some of the houses in her neighbourhood now change hands for around ten thousand dollars.
Occupy activists move in
So, Monique turned to the grassroots Occupy Wall Street Movement for help. They occupied her house, lent her moral support and kept her and her family from being thrown out.
They have even put up a Christmas Tree to brighten things up amid the boxes and packing cases.
The Occupy volunteers live downstairs, while Monique and her boys plus her brother live upstairs.
Their aim is to shame the sheriff, the mayor and the bank into not tipping Monique and her family out on the street and dumping their stuff on the lawn before swiftly changing the locks.
They tried it in November but went away after the Occupy people alerted TV stations and cameras filmed the operation for the nightly news shows.
Though, Monique is still waiting to hear what the bank’s next move will be – and it could still be eviction like millions of US homeowners right now – at least she knows she will have the support of her family, her friends and the community.
It gives her some comfort … though tears are never far from her eyes these days.