The Dayton neighborhood in which Harriet Parker and her husband, Oscar, live has neatly trimmed lawns and block after block of ranch style houses. She's raised four children in this well kept home. Now, she watches her young grandchildren there during the week. She's not sure how long she'll be able to continue helping her kids with daycare, especially after she received a letter informing her that she owed nearly $92,000 in a balloon payment to her lender.
The Parkers paid off their original mortgage, but about ten years ago, they took out a $100,000 home equity loan to make some improvements. So, payments she's been making over the last decade have barely made a dent.
"I went ballistic. Then I gave them a call," says Parker.
Unfortunately, her loan had been packaged up and sold to investors, and she didn't get very far trying to get in touch with the right people.
"When you call them, you never get the same person. I've tried to correspond, and she says 'Hi, this is Cora', you know, and then if i need to call back and need to speak to Cora, they say we can help you. Then they tell me something totally different," says Parker.
Frustrated, she turned to a group that she read about in the local paper. It's called County Corp, which tries to help people like her before it's too late.
"At least let me give them a call and see if they can help, or at least direct me in the way I need to go. And that's how I got a hold of Stephanie here," says Parker.
Stephanie Evans is a mortgage counselor for County Corp. Lately, she's been pretty busy. Compared to last year, Stephanie's work load has doubled.
"Emotions Are Involved"
In order to help Harriet Parker, Stephanie Evans begins by thumbing through her loan documents.
"There's one page, two pages, three pages, four pages...four pages long double side, so you're talking 8 pages and we're talking an 8 font print," says Evans.
The paperwork is full of, what Evans calls, legalize. Also, she says that when it comes to your home, emotions are involved, and lenders may take advantage of that.
"They know that. When you're signing those papers they know that, so they're like, let's hurry up and do this. She's an intelligent person, she knows what she's getting into. And she is an intelligent person and she did read it but you just get overwhelmed by the paperwork. And that's where the trap comes in," says Evans.
The good news is that Parker got to County Corp before it was too late and Evans thinks she can help the Parkers restructure their mortgage. Others aren't so lucky.
"I get people who walk in and hand me a briefcase and they're maybe two dozen pieces of mail that they haven't opened," says Evans.
She says when people wait and ignore the problem, there's not much she can do.
"I have people who are extremely depressed over this. I have people who just point blank tell me, if I can't stay here, I might as well end everything, because that's all they know," says Evans.
"I Don't Want To Be Reminded"
At the end of her day, Evans gets on a bus that takes her from downtown Dayton to her home in the historic Daytonview neighborhood. She says her clients stay with her, even after her work is done.
"That's what makes it so hard as a counselor because I hear the stories and I know what's happening in some of the neighborhoods, and then I have to come home every day and actually live that," says Evans.
What she means is that her neighborhood has problems, too. She's able to make her mortgage payments, but many of the homes around her are empty and in foreclosure.
"Look at these houses! My house, according to the records was built in 1905. Governor Cox lived on this street one time was a kid, that house was on the national historic registry," says Evans.
She moved into her four bedroom home back in 1987. For a while, her house steadily increased in value. But that's not the case anymore. Every time a home on this street goes into foreclosure, her property value goes down.
Evans says when she gets home, she locks the door and pulls down the blinds so she doesn't have to be reminded of her own problems.
"I'd say if I have one more empty house on my block, I'm probably under water," says Evans.
That means the house will be worth less than what she paid for it. She's worried, she says, because she's counting on the equity in her home for her future.
"You buy a house in hope that the value will appreciate over time so that will be the asset that will build the wealth for the family. If it depreciates, I won't be able to hand that wealth over to my kids," says Evans.
When asked what advice she would give herself as a counselor, she had a quick response.
"First, is hang in there. Second, the best thing you can do is to continue to maintain your asset and hang onto it as long as you can. But also, don't stick your head in the sand when it comes to the end and wait too late to get out...um," Evans says, and pauses.
She says she's still thinking about Harriet Parker. No matter what happens, maybe she says, it's all for the best.
"Even though it's not what you originally thought of, life is about changes. Life is about surviving those changes, and anybody can do that," says Evans.
"We'll Be Ok"
At Harriet Parker's house, her grandson plays video games while waiting for his mother. And Parker sits in her dining room thinking about her own future and the future of her children and her grandchildren.
"Like I told the kids, they say momma, this is the only home that they know. And I said, to me, home is where the heart is. I said if we're all together in a one room shack that's home. I wanted a home so I could have a place to raise you and we've done that, and we'll be ok," says Parker.
Parker says she loves her home and has put a lot into it over the years, and at this point, she's hopeful she'll be able to stay.