Sunday, February 1, 2009

All Connected

Having never bought a home of my own, I am really quite ignorant of the finer details of such a transaction. Finer details being everything from start to finish, and all the things I don’t know that I don’t know in between. This bugs me not in the least. There is a finite amount of space in my brain, which is already cluttered with useless information and I have not sought to fill it with more stuff that I have no present use for.

With that out of the way, I’m about to delve into something I don’t know anything about. (Oooh, new territory for me?? Yeah, right.)

A friend of mine, who works for a county non-profit institution that deals directly with the public schools, revealed to me that there is a town in our county currently with a 60% foreclosure rate. It’s a relatively large town (population 36,000 according to the 2000 census) with a high crime and poverty rate, but not too far removed from the status of the town where I live. I drive through it twice a month to see my doctors. It’s a part of what I consider to be My Area outside of My Neighborhood, which is actually quite large. They have never been a rich suburb, even though they are practically next door to the richest of the rich, but this is just a horrifying bit of information. 60% is a staggering percentage.

Lets try to wrap our heads around that for a minute. A MAJORITY of the homes in that town are foreclosing right now. Three out of five families (roughly 21,600 people) are losing their homes. It’s sickening. Where are these people going? Are we about to face a massive influx of homeless in the shelters in the area? Are there enough shelters? What if the shelters are full? Are they moving into the homes of relatives or friends? What’s happening to them?

Okay, before I have an anxiety attack thinking about all the people who are suffering so desperately right now, let’s take a step back and pretend there aren’t real people in these houses. They’re just houses and property that a mortgage company now is responsible for because the tenants have had to abandon their claim.

My pulse is returning to normal and the tears in my eyes are starting to evaporate. Let’s step back even more.

Consider all the banks that service this area. Granted, all these houses are not mortgaged by one bank or else I’m sure that bank would be beyond a bailout, so we’re wondering about any number of mortgage companies now suddenly looking at a huge decrease in their own incomes.

Also, imagine if you will that before these homes foreclosed, people tried to make ends meet as best they could, cutting the things that weren’t essential or immediately going to impact them, and their utilities probably were off and on, all entertainment money was likely deflected elsewhere, no new stuff, no medical care unless absolutely necessary, and only then at an ER where the bill was likely not paid, and surely the property taxes weren’t paid.

The property taxes weren’t paid.

Now that the mortgage companies have foreclosed, who is responsible for those taxes?

I know, I’m supposed to be this reference chick, but I haven’t been able to find definitive information on Google, and when I find information, it’s written in a lingo that I don’t understand. What I have gathered is that the tax responsibility falls in a few places, likely with the mortgage company, or if the mortgage company can try to push it off on a future buyer, then the next owner will pay it. There was something about deferring the property taxes and something about…oh forget it! I just don’t know, but it seemed like often it just was not being paid.

With a 60% foreclosure rate, the property values are plummeting. Factor in the fact that there have to be vacant houses all over town, children floating in and out of school without a stable address to come from, homelessness is frighteningly high, and a multitude of other issues, and I bet property values in this town are next to nothing. So, even if people were paying the property taxes, that likely won’t amount to much in the present and near future.

How safe are those of us who work for non-profit organizations whose funding comes from property taxes? Schools, police departments, fire departments, all local government, public libraries, etc., are all tied directly to property taxes.

What happens when we lose 60% of our town’s property to foreclosure, and a comparable amount is lost in tax revenue?

I’m not going to pretend for one minute that what I do at the library is anywhere near as important as a teacher, police officer, firefighter, etc., even though the library provides some essential services to people who can’t afford things like a computer to look for jobs and apply for government assistance online, or a means by which their kids can read and conduct their studies when parents can’t afford to buy them every book they need to read, but if it came down to it, I’d feel better knowing that the library was perhaps only open a few days a week while the police force was still fully manned. Unfortunately, that’s not a direct sacrifice that we can make. But I am guessing we are going to have to make some sacrifices and very soon. While the foreclosure rate in our town is probably quite a bit less than 60% today, we cannot be that far behind. Will we follow in their footsteps? What would we do?

My family is getting by merely by the skin of our teeth right now. We’ve given up cable, Internet and a slew of amenities we were accustomed to, as well as forcefully losing various utilities temporarily, until we could have them restored. Fortunately, LIHEAP has bailed us out of a few emergencies with the utilities, and my mother and brother now receive food stamps (which are no longer actual stamps, much to my surprise), in addition to my mother’s usual box of semi-edibles from the food pantry. We pay the mortgage, then triage the utilities by what can legally be shut off during the winter months, and I find myself having to eat eggs for breakfast everyday (because they’re cheap) and popcorn for lunch everyday (because it’s cheap), and for dinner I get to splurge and make something with meat and veggies. If fucking sucks. It sucks big, sweaty monkey balls and it infuriates me that at this point in my life, I’m in this situation without any ounce of hope of it getting better. I do not want this life. I hate-hate-hate having to live like this! No one will hire my brother, my mother is too scary to leave the house, and her Disability check doesn’t cover much of anything, so we live with what my check can give, and if I want any wiggle room at all, I’m going to have to get a second job.

Now, contrary to the paragraph you just read, I know all too well how lucky I am. Somehow, we keep the electricity and water on, and a roof over our heads. Somehow we all eat our necessary fill of food everyday, even if it’s not the best food. Somehow, we get by. My socks and underwear all have holes and new ones seem like a luxury beyond my means right now, but I know I am very lucky to have those holey socks and undies at all. My car has bald tires and the brakes squeal like crazy, but it runs and I’m not living in it. I am lucky. People have it much worse than me. Like, say, 60% of the people living in that destitute, nearby town.

I think to myself, if I get a part-time job to help us pay our bills without having to skip months and accept help from LIHEAP, am I taking a job away from someone more needy than me? Maybe someone with small children. Maybe someone who has been without any work at all for a very long time. Should I be out there competing with people who need the job more than me?

What if I lose my job at the library because our library loses a ton of funding? Then what? What the hell would I do? Why should anyone hire me when I am unmarried and childless, when there are so many unemployed people out there who don’t even have a home anymore? We’ll lose our house and be in the same boat. Then what?

No one is safe. And it’s just getting worse. It scares the hell out of me and all I can do is try not to think of all the people suffering around me and just try to keep my own head above water. But it isn’t working. And I don’t know what to do anymore. Because everyone who suffers effects everyone else.

What can I do?


Anonymous said...

We've been talking about this a lot at my library too. I am seeing more fathers coming in with their kids since they have no jobs and the wives are working their low-paying, sometimes multiple, jobs to make ends meet. What the wives bring in may keep food on the table but little else. I expect there will be many social ills generated by the situation and I'm already hearing about divorces and men just leaving their families to get by the best they can. How this will affect libraries is going to be horrific as property taxes will not get paid but demand for our services are way up. Our library has had a 25% increase in circulation and instead of being thrilled I am scared shitless.

Shy said...

If it's small comfort, because of the way taxes are collected, you're probably not going to see fallout from uncollected property taxes until your library's next fiscal year. Of course, you'll be stretching to help everyone long before that.

I live alone, and I've been working one full and two part time jobs for the last four years. I've always had at least two jobs since I became a full-time librarian. I never expected to be a rich librarian, but I did foolishly think that I could buy groceries and pay the electric bill in the same month with one professional job. Ha. It is hard on your health to work so much, so if you do consider another job, try not to work too many hours, or make sure that you have at least one day off a week and have enough time for rest. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

It seems like everyone is affected. Our circulation numbers are up and they want to cut our budget some more. Read, yet again.
I feel your pain, its just me and my daughter. A newly minted graduate with no way to pay for loans which kick in any time now and I can't pay either. As for a second job, none to be had here...

Manda said...

On who pays the property taxes on foreclosed properties: Before we bought our house (it was a foreclosure) we called the county courthouse to get the records on the house and see who was listed as the taxpayer. It was the bank that had the house under foreclosure. I assume they paid the taxes because there were no back taxes we had to pay.

We bought a foreclosed home (got a decent deal, but not a steal) much closer to my husband's workplace to save money on gas. We were already buying store-brand groceries. Yet we're still tight. It's hitting everyone.

Happy Villain said...

Anon 1:
Ah, I've seen more fathers lately too, but I never put that together. We've also seen an increase in use, and on any given day our 25 public computers are packed with people, all day long, morning, afternoon and night. For the first time in a long time, it's dominated by adults and not teens. It is indeed scary. And instead of being frustrated with all the adults demanding help filling out applications online when they've never touched a computer, I go above and beyond to help them. It could be life and death at this point, and it terrifies me.

I know about the delay on the taxes, which also says to me that when and if the economy picks up, we're going to be lagging behind for a year or two then as well. It sucks. I, too, have worked multiple jobs. These last 3 years I have had only this job, and it's the first time since I got out of school that I haven't worked at least two jobs, but I thought I deserved some time for myself. What's it worth if there's no electricity?

Anon 2:
Ahhh, "no jobs" scares me so much. I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime. I'm so sorry you have the student loans on top of everything else, with a daughter as well. My heart aches. We're so alone, but all in this together.

Interesting that you didn't get stuck with the taxes. I wonder if the banks/mortgage companies can handle this. What happens if they can't pay? Isn't it weird how you make cutbacks and more cutbacks, and it never sees to free up any extra money? Ugh.

Rachel said...

In my boyfriend's work, they're laying off 70 elementary school teachers and they haven't said how many other teachers are being laid off. He's pretty much resigned to not having a job come August.
California's unemployment rates have risen to almost 10% and in the last year alone 453,421 houses were foreclosed.
People making over $100k a year are homeless in the Silicon Valley...
Unfortunately, my library has not yet seen the rise in numbers, I think they're all going to my mom's library.