Foreclosures leave many competing for same services

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
CONCORD ó The executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition told the 90 people at Thursday’s fourth annual Housing Forum that many of the people who lost their homes to foreclosure aren’t dropping back to renting apartments.
“They’re going right into economic crisis,” said Chris Estes.
Many of those who lost homes now are competing with people the agencies represented at the forum help with affordable public housing programs. “They’re doubling up with people, family and friends. They’re living in substandard places and motels and other places that we wouldn’t want them to have to choose,” Estes said.
Sponsored by the Piedmont Regional Continuum of Care Committee ó which deals with housing issues in Rowan, Cabarrus, Davidson, Stanly and Union counties ó the daylong forum on “Homelessness to Homeownership” was held at All Saints Episcopal Church.
Though North Carolina hasn’t been hit as hard by rising foreclosure rates as states like Florida, California and Ohio, Estes said the rate is still significant.
“We’ve gone from five years ago about 14,000 foreclosures a year to almost 60,000 this year,” he said. “That’s an added burden on all of the crisis support services …”
Estes said agencies in this area understand what that’s like better than most, having assisted displaced workers after the July 30, 2003, closing of Pillowtex, which left 4,800 people without jobs.
Statewide, he said Charlotte has had the highest foreclosure rate. Estes said this is due primarily to marketplace developers building a lot of entry-level houses, and predatory lenders offering loans to people who couldn’t really afford them.
“And they all went under,” he said. “The saddest part of that story is that the folks who were able to stay in their homes are now left in these communities that have huge numbers of vacancies, and there’s no other housing stock to kind of strengthen their neighborhoods, so they’ve seen their properties decline.”
As a result, he said it’s not just the people in foreclosure who are facing economic crisis, it’s also the folks left behind.
Addressing what he described as the “hypermythology of home ownership,” Estes said, “for the last decade or so, there’s been a tremendous push in all levels of our country to really believe that home ownership was the American dream.”
Throughout history, he said the American dream has been about coming to this country and having the opportunity to improve yourself, regardless of what you were born into. “It didn’t necessarily mean you became a homeowner with a picket fence and a whitewash house.”
Certainly, Estes said home ownership is an economic opportunity that most people strive for and will be able to achieve. “But it is not the dream unto itself,” he said. “It does not mean that you are a better American or a better citizen in your community.
“We’ve kind of downgraded the whole rental situation because of that.”
Estes said the Housing Coalition doesn’t downgrade home ownership, “but we try to make sure folks understand the realistic pressures of what it means to become a successful homeowner …
“There are a lot of people who aren’t there, and they need support, guidance and the opportunity to save that comes from affordable rental housing as well as home ownership education on how to be a successful homeowner. It doesn’t just happen naturally.
“We try to be the voice of realism at work.”
Estes said he hopes the agency representatives at the forum will echo that sentiment as they advocate for more affordable housing with local, state and federal officials. He was among several speakers featured at the Piedmont Regional Continuum of Care forum.
The continuum committee works to raise awareness about homelessness, share information and resources regarding what is available to assist homeless persons and partner with organizations seeking to increase affordable housing and services for those in need.
For more information on the Piedmont Regional Continuum of Care Committee, contact Chairman Jim Curtin at 704-721-2714. Curtin is in the community relations department of Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare, the local mental health entity that acts as lead agency for the continuum.
For more information on the N.C. Housing Coalition, log onto nchousing.org.

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