Reflections on Foreclosure in Durham

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Over the last several weeks, I’ve transitioned from researching North Carolina’s suffering textile industry to an equally distressing topic — Durham County’s foreclosure statistics. I have focused on 2011 and 2012 foreclosure stats, and though we have heard repeatedly over the last few years how our nation’s housing has suffered, it never hit me as much as reading through individual files.

Foreclosure files are, of course, public record, so the Durham County Courthouse may be accessed by anyone who wishes to better understand the foreclosure process. The records are housed in the Office of Special Proceedings on the second floor of a gleaming new building in downtown Durham. I set up shop in a small waiting room, shared with me by those awaiting their hearings. I was struck by the range of people sitting around me — they were of all national origins, all ages, and all different types of personalities. I enjoyed chatting with folks, never asking about their personal situation, but rather glossing over the dreary cause for their visit and covering easier topics like the weather or sports. I didn’t push a conversation on anyone, but if we made eye contact I would try to engage them. For me, it allowed me to put some faces to the crisis that, for some, is still clearly ongoing in our country. I remember most the older people who, I imagine, entered into their home loans years ago but have fallen behind in their later years.

Since some of the foreclosure files I studied were opened recently, the outcomes are still pending. I have to wonder what their situation is today and what put them there in the first place. Did they lose their jobs? Did a catastrophic event occur that made making mortgage payments impossible? Or were they duped into an enormous home loan with little chance of making the large monthly payments? Most disturbing to me were the small loans — a couple for as low as $23,000, to be paid back over 300 months! I wondered about how desperate this situation must have been where someone couldn’t make such minuscule monthly payments.

We hear a lot about foreclosures; some blame the buyers for taking on too much and disregarding their future. Others blame predatory lenders and a nationwide insistence that everyone should own a home. While I’m sure there isn’t one “reason” why the mortgage crisis occurred—though I’m sure anyone will act shortsightedly for a chance to put their kids in a house—it does not matter the cause: everyone suffers when folks are forced into foreclosures. While there are encouraging signs in the market today, I have seen the after-effects of the crisis on a first-hand basis for the first time. As the summer winds down, I’m left feeling hopeful, but troubled by sight of so many people waiting to learn what their future holds.

Posted by John T. Gibson on Fri. August 8, 2014 1:32 PM
Categories: Student Research
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