The face of foreclosure

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We hear it on the news every day: The severity of mortgage foreclosures. We see the statistics. But those are just numbers. Behind the numbers are people—families losing their homes, totally overturning their lives. What is the reality of foreclosure? This is the first in a series of articles that will personalize the foreclosure crisis in our community.

St. Paul’s East Side has been hit especially hard in the foreclosure crisis. Nicki Tennyson knows this first-hand. In October of 2006, Tennyson and her then-husband purchased a home off E. 7th St. and Stillwater Ave., on her credit. The agreement was that Tennyson would make their car payments and he would make the mortgage payments.

Dayton’s Bluff Vacant Home Tour is free of charge and open to the public from noon-5 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, and from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, May 4. Meet at 798 E. 7th Street for maps and free trolley rides. For more information email karin@daytonsbluff.org or call 651-722-2075.

Everything seemed fine until Tennyson came home one day in January 2007 and saw a sign stating that her house was on the sheriff’s sale list. Next thing she knew, she came home to find a locksmith changing her locks. Apparently the sheriff’s office had stopped by numerous times during the day—when Tennyson and her husband were working fulltime. The office then considered the home as abandoned property and relegated the ownership to the real estate company.

And that’s when the unthinkable drama began. It turned out that her ex-husband wasn’t making the mortgage payments. All bills, letters and phone calls went to him, and she had no clue that things had gotten so out-of-hand. Now she was told she had six months to get up-to-date on the mortgage or vacate her home. As a mother of four, with her credit now ruined, “stress” doesn’t even begin to cover the many emotions she was feeling.

“This is not something I ever thought I would deal with,” says Tennyson. “I lost everything—my home, my credit, my husband. I didn’t know where to turn.”
At first, the anxiety consumed her. “This affects every aspect of your life. I couldn’t sleep or eat or focus on work. I would come home and go to bed. I lost 20 pounds. I was worried about my kids and what they were losing.”

But Tennyson was able to work through the emotions and do what was best for her family. With her ex-husband no longer involved, she started looking for a new place to live. But with her bad credit rating, this became a big problem. “I remember talking with a potential landlord and he was okay with me and my salary—until he asked if I’d been through a foreclosure. I was honest about it, but he immediately dismissed my application. I just started crying.”

Part of the move to a rental unit in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood included having to put down two cats, as the rental property didn’t allow pets. This was especially hard on Tennyson’s oldest daughter Star, 17, who loves animals. Star was also very sad and anxious about the foreclosure. Because it was then summer break, she took a few mini-vacations with grandparents and friends to try and help her forget the reality. Tennyson’s three younger children live with family in Wisconsin. She didn’t go into detail with them about the foreclosure or divorce, trying to shield them from as much worry as possible.

You hear that the current high foreclosure rate is due to the imploding housing market and the shocking increases when adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) are reset. But Tennyson is not alone in having divorce as the main reason for foreclosure. “Trigger events,” such as divorce and job loss, are increasing thereby making it more likely homeowners will default on their mortgage.

Tennyson’s advice for anyone going through foreclosure, or even thinking they might, is simple: “Get help.” She knew vaguely there were resources around, but the surprise and enormity of it all kept her from researching them. “If you are at all behind on your mortgage, check your options,” says Tennyson. “There are programs out there.”

For now, Tennyson has declared bankruptcy and is trying to start fresh. She continues to rent and thankfully still has her job. She hopes to one day to be done with the credit issue. But she knows the emotions and lessons involved in this experience will stay with her.