Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

After losing their five-acre property to foreclosure, Shawna Cordova and her family moved from two houses into a small rental home and apartment.

Issue: Foreclosures

Profiles: Forced to downsize

Thursday, July 21st, 2011 

The Investigative Reporting Workshop and New America Media profiled those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis in communities of color.

New America Media

ESCALON, Calif. — In 2008, Shawna Cordova purchased her dream house on five acres of land out in the country. But last year, her home went into foreclosure.

By last May she had lost her property, which included a newly built house where her eldest son, Matthew Wilcox, 25, with his wife Jessica, 25, and their three children lived. The children are all younger than 4.

“It's like a death. You lose everything,” said Cordova. “You lose a dream. [You ask yourself] 'Where are we going to live?'”

Cordova and her husband, James Williams, put $189,500 down on the house at the time of purchase. Later, in order to build the second house on the property for her son and his family, Cordova took out a homebuilder's loan and was advised to hold off on refinancing her first loan for the time being.

“We bought the house with the idea of adding a home, so my kids could raise their kids out in the country,” she said.

The problems began when Williams was fired from his job while on vacation. The case eventually went to an appeals judge at the state Employment and Development Department. After nearly 21 months of disputing the wrongful termination, a judge granted Williams access to unemployment benefits.

Cordova, who's awaiting a worker's compensation settlement for a back injury, previously worked as a nurse.

Cordova and Williams had been living in the property’s first home with Cordova’s two youngest children and an older son, Justin Wilcox, 23, and his two daughters, when last fall Cordova approached her lender and asked to refinance her loan. The response, she said, was a shock. Since she had the loan processed through a private investor, she wasn't able to refinance her loan and was ineligible for other programs aimed to stop foreclosures.

“When you're with a private investor, they don't have to report if you're paying on time,” she said. “[So] you have no [real] proof that you were paying on time.”

Through it all, Cordova says she felt her real estate agent didn't give her all the facts.

After losing the property this year, the family had to scramble to find a rental house. They didn't want to move too far out of the area, to keep a level of normalcy for Cordova's two youngest children, Luckie, 16, and Angelina, 11. Cordova wanted them to attend the same school.

The move meant a lot of downsizing and getting rid of their pets, which included a horse, goats, ducks, chickens, dogs and cats. The animals either were given away or euthanized by an animal shelter.

The family currently lives in a house while Matthew and his family live in an apartment in Modesto.

Although Cordova has learned to live with the harsh reality of losing her home, one unsettling feeling remains.

“I feel liked I walked down the street and someone stole my purse with my money in it,” she said. “When you lose your home, you feel robbed.”

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


Back Story

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Donald Barlett and James Steele talk about the project, and why they decided to revisit a book they wrote two decades ago, in a series of video clips produced by the Workshop.

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Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.