Related: California reeling from the foreclosure crisis

Profiles: Thrown into an unstable rental market

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

OAKLAND, Calif.— Last March, Brenda Fuller lost her two-bedroom condo in East Oakland to foreclosure. Now she is a renter in a volatile housing market.

Over the past two years, Fuller, 59, moved three times, first to a house in East Oakland that she didn’t know had been foreclosed on and was sold at auction three months after she moved in. She left the second after three attempted break-ins, despite its location in relatively upscale Laurel Heights. Now she lives in an apartment complex near MacArthur Boulevard, where there have been three homicides in the surrounding area since March of this year.

For Fuller, the fight to save the only home she ever owned was a multifaceted, three-year struggle.

Photo by Joseph Rodriguez

After losing her condo, Brenda Fuller moved to three different rental homes over two years.

In the summer of 2007, her homeowners' association initiated foreclosure actions on her condo to collect overdue assessments, which Fuller could not afford to pay. At the time, she was unemployed and on temporary disability. She sought pro bono legal help and eventually paid $1,400 to settle her $2,114.46 debt.

In late 2008, Fuller then began an 18-month struggle with her lender, Bank of America, to modify her home loan.

But the battle with her homeowners' group, she said, had drained so much of her time and energy, she wasn't sure if she could survive another fight.

“This has been very frustrating and has taken a toll on me both physically and mentally,” she said.

In November 2008, she learned the interest rate on her loan would be adjusted on Jan. 1, 2009, almost doubling her monthly payment to nearly $5,000. She said she knew she couldn’t afford it, so she found a rental and moved as soon as she could before her credit score decreased from missing mortgage payments. She immediately stopped making payments on her property, but struggled tried to strike a deal with Bank of America to modify her home loan in the hopes of lowering her monthly payments and moving back.

In mid-February 2010, Fuller said she finally received a “hopeful” call from Bank Of America, asking for more financial documents to move her modification application forward. The following week, she said she received notice from the bank that she was in foreclosure.

“The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing,” she said. “The foreclosure department didn’t know that it was in loan modification, and the loan modification department didn’t know it was in foreclosure.”

The bank eventually auctioned her condo — appraised at $375,000 — for $52,000, in March 2010.

The lasting impact is that the foreclosure has left her under a mountain of debt. When she emerged from the ordeal, Fuller owed the IRS $14,000 in taxes.

Fuller qualified for a payment plan and recently started paying $175 per month in an effort to get out of the hole, “but that’s not doing any good,” she said. “Each month, the total amount increases nearly $500 because of penalties and interest.”

Although Fuller said the debt is burdensome, she added that she’d be in “real financial trouble” if she were responsible for paying the remainder of the loan.

“That would impact me tremendously,” she said. “I just might have to work until I’m 100.”

Fuller says that while she plans on “going forward with life,” she has a different outlook on home ownership as a result of her ordeals.

“I’m not living in the past, but I don’t think I will own a home again,” she said. “I don’t… trust the [housing] industry. It was not about the American dream. It was about the dollar bill. They sold me a home to put a dollar bill in their pocket.”

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.

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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.