Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

René Lopez moved his six family members into a two-bedroom apartment after being evicted from their home. The family still struggles to make ends meet, and at 58, Lopez is having a hard time getting back into the labor force.

Related: California reeling from the foreclosure crisis

Profiles: Large family makes do with less

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 

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

New America Media

LOS ANGELES — For René Lopez, it feels as if the world has collapsed. Or it might be more correct to say that the world has shrunk.

Shortly after losing his job in the jewelry district in downtown Los Angeles, Lopez fell behind on his mortgage payments, and the bank foreclosed on his three-bedroom home in East Los Angeles. He then paid thousands of dollars to alleged experts, who said they could help him recover the property.

He has not heard from them since they took his money.

Sitting at a table in his small apartment, Lopez recalled the day he was evicted from his house in early May.

"The sheriff's deputies arrived at about 10 a.m. and told us we could not stay in the house. They only gave us 15 minutes to get things of value," he said.

The locks on the doors were changed, and the house that he always thought he would leave to his children no longer belonged to him.

On the day of the eviction, he and his daughter, Xochitl, set about finding a new home. They managed to rent a small apartment in Montebello, 10 minutes from their former Westside Drive home.

Now the family has to resign itself to living in a two-bedroom apartment, shared by Lopez and his wife, their children, René and Xochitl, and her husband and two granddaughters, aged 3 and 7. Every morning, they take turns using the only bathroom.

Since they cannot accommodate all the furniture that they had in the house, they rented a storage space at an additional $100 per month.

"Thank God we're together and we were able to get out of this, but yes, we're squished,” said Lopez’ daughter Xochitl.

Her 7-year-old daughter understands what has happened.

"We explained to her, we were deceived and lost the house. That's all we can say to her,” Xochitl said.

She still attends the same school as before — her parents have resisted separating her from her friends — but her 3-year-old sister still asks when they will return to the other house.

The family income is enough to pay the $1,100 rent for the apartment, but it is not easy to come up with the money for living expenses. Lopez's wife cleans houses three or four days a week. His son, Rene, and his son-in-law work in restaurants, but lately their work hours have been reduced.

Rene Sr., at 58, said it is not easy to get back into the labor force, especially in a county with nearly 600,000 unemployed people. And even though he lost his house, he still receives bills in the mail for the second mortgage of the property.

His mother just turned 82, but the hopes of a reunion with her in Oaxaca, México, are impossible until he makes more money.

"How can I tell her I'll go to visit, if I have nothing to take her?" he said.

Translated by Liz Gonzalez 

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.


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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.