Editor’s Note: This is the first in what will be a series of stories called Dispatches From The American Dream, where we take a look at the changing face of the American Dream in Martinez. I’m going to begin the series with my own story.
In November of 2007, I cashed in my 760 credit rating and maxed out my credit cards and moved into my new home. I was giddy with the thought that somehow, through some slick magic I barely understood, home ownership was back within my reach.
My realtor assured me that home prices had gone up by five to ten percent for the past ten years, and in all likelihood would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
“Of course,” he said, “there are no guarantees, but there’s no reason to believe that things won’t continue to go they way they’ve been going.”
For years, I’d been skeptical of the housing prices in Northern California. They were outrageous, like some kind of ridiculous fiction. My own house, for instance, was valued at nearly half a million dollars. It is a modest little place on a quiet street, but hardly worth that much. But I was told that it was a steal, and I should jump on it. So I did.
It happened pretty fast. Papers were signed, and before I knew it, I was a homeowner. Just like that. No down payment. The fees ate up a lot of my savings, and the moving costs, but all in all, it didn’t really cost me a lot to move in.
From the start, the payments were more than I could afford. But I was assured that if I could just hang on for a couple of years, the value of my house would soar, I could refinance and bring the payments down with a 30 year fixed mortgage. So I turned to my trusty credit cards to get me through from month to month, and held on.
A few months later, the bottom dropped out of the housing market, and by the time a year had gone by, despair had replaced any giddiness I might have felt. A new marriage dulled, and for a time, replaced the panic with joy and optimism, but things continued to stay desperate in the housing market, and my American dream turned into a daily nightmare.
I applied for a mortgage modification, figuring that of course the bank would help me, the same way the government helped them. But after nine months of being treated like a lowlife, I was abruptly dismissed by a low-level bank employee who told me over the phone that there would be no modification, in the same matter-of-fact way you would tell someone that you don’t have a particular brand of coffee today.
After another year of more panic and financial meltdown, it’s time to just walk away from this whole affair. There is no choice, really. The value of this home will never equal the amount of the loan. And it needs repairs I can’t possibly afford. I have no equity from which to borrow, and there’s no point in trying for another modification. So I’m walking away. It doesn’t feel good, but it doesn’t feel like failure, either. It feels as though the landscape of our country has shifted, the ground is no longer stable, the assumptions I made about the structure of our system are not tenable.
I can, and do, still have dreams of what it means to be an American. But my American dream is vastly different than the one I held so closely in November of 2007. It’s darker, and less sure of itself, of its future. But maybe there’s hope in there, too – a knowledge that even a dream that looks too good to be true, probably is.
TODAY IN HISTORY (from Wikipedia):
1914 - The Panama Canal opens to traffic with the transit of the cargo ship Ancon
1935 - · Will Rogers and Wiley Post are killed after their aircraft develops engine problems during takeoff in Barrow, Alaska.
1945 - World War II: Japan surrenders to end the war.
1947 - India gains Independence from the British Indian Empire and joins the Commonwealth of Nations.
1965 - The Beatles play to nearly 60,000 fans at Shea Stadium in New York City, in an event later seen as marking the birth of stadium rock.
1969 - The Woodstock Music and Art Festival opens.
1977 - The Big Ear, a radio telescope operated by Ohio State University as part of the SETI project, receives a radio signal from deep space; the event is named the "Wow! signal" from the notation made by a volunteer on the project.