Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

Related: California reeling from the foreclosure crisis

Profiles: Stress worsens health

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

MORENO VALLEY, Calif. — Pretti Hilton sighs as she recalls the countless times she’s mailed and faxed paperwork to her bank to modify her home loan.

For three years, 48-year-old Hilton has been struggling to modify the loan on her two-bedroom home with Bank of America. She says she has sent them her financial documents at least 30 times, and while her determination to save her home is palpable, so is her stress level.

“My stress level is ridiculous now,” said Hilton, who takes three different medications a day for hypertension, which she says she never had before.

“When you call [the home retention department] you get a recording that says, ‘you qualify [for modification] if you have experienced loss of income, divorce or death in the family,’” she said. “And I’ve experienced it all over the past two years, yet I’m told that I still don’t qualify.”

Since late 2009, Hilton’s home has been up for auction each month. She says she’s grateful that each time her requests for extensions were granted, but fears that “next time” her plea will be denied.

“I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Hilton, fretting not only for herself but also for her 14-year-old son, who has ADHD, and her 26-year-old disabled son, who both live with her.

Hilton receives subsidies from the state to care for her son at home through the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, which covers in-home care for low-income frail seniors or people with disabilities. She was also caring for her godmother under the program.

State budget cuts to the supportive-services program and the loss of her godmother, who died of complications from cancer, have caused her income to plummet by 50 percent. This loss, in turn, triggered a downward spiral that has brought her to the brink of foreclosure.

“There were three different periods of time when I went two to three months without pay [from In-Home Supportive Services],” she said.

Hilton says she had to tighten her belt and "cut down on every luxury.” When the state program resumed issuing her paychecks, she attempted to resume her mortgage payments. Bank of America told her that her monthly fees would be higher as a result of late fees.

But Hilton disputed this new amount. She said Bank of America was going to continue to charge her the higher amount even after paying off all late fees. She took the issue up with the bank, but to no avail.

In August of 2009, she stopped paying her mortgage altogether and sought help from housing counseling agencies. Hilton qualified for a free audit of her home loan documents through one of the housing organizations last year. She said it revealed her bank was overcharging her nearly $500 a month. Bank of America has yet to respond to the results of the audit.

To make matters worse, Hilton says, a Bank of America representative advised her to also stop making payments on her car loan to better qualify for a modification, but that resulted in the car’s repossession. Hilton has been without a car since, and “pays friends” to take her places.

While Hilton says she has taken all the necessary steps to modify her loan, she says she’s still “in limbo.”

In May, Hilton hired a lawyer to provide further advice and support. She has paid him $1,500.

But she said, “I try not to think about it. I just keep on fighting. I’m doing this all so I can save my home.”


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

The authors talk about What Went Wrong

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.

Nation's Story

Who pays the taxes?

Who pays the taxes?

We feature charts, maps, photos and other visualizations that reflect the state of the economy as part of our What Went Wrong project. This column chart shows the growing disparity between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes. In the 1950s, the difference was 22 percent. Recent figures show the difference is 62 percent.

Rags to rags: Economic mobility hard to come by

New Pew Center on States report confirms that moving up the American economic ladder is difficult, even though most people have more income than their parents.

Homelessness takes it toll on Florida's youngest

Florida, as a center of the housing boom, still struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Financial stresses and widespread foreclosures have placed families in precarious situations, resulting in a spike in child homelessness. Susannah Nesmith reports in the Broward Bulldog.

Older workers face challenges in Silicon Valley

An advanced degree and experience in the tech sector should be a ticket to a job in today's economy. But older workers in the heart of the new economy, Silicon Valley, are finding their resume is not the issue. Aaron Glantz reports in The Bay Citizen.

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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.