The recent headlines on America’s housing situation paint a rosy picture.
Home prices are rising.
Housing stock is dropping.
And even cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix that got crushed in the housing downturn are seeing home sales bounce back.
But these bits of good news bring little joy after reading the new book “A Dream Foreclosed” (picrured left) by Laura Gottesdiener (pictured), a New York journalist.
“Floreclosed” examines how the housing crisis has decimated Black communities across the nation and leaves one feeling that its going to take decades — not just years — to turn around Black communities ravaged by the foreclosure crisis.
If they can ever be restored at all.
A Dream Foreclosed (Zuccotti Park Press, August 2013) tells in compelling language how more than 10 million Americans have been put out of their homes since the housing crisis began in 2007, with the Black community bearing a disproportionate share of the evictions.
But instead of simply telling a numbers story, Gottesdiener goes the extra step of identifying the bad guys (largely, banks and their gangsterish lending practices) and telling the stories of four families, heroes really, who refused to be broken by a foreclosure notice on their door.
“I don’t refer to these people as victims,” Gottesdiener said in a recent interview. “They all shared the feeling that housing was far more than just a roof over their heads. It represented broader goals of who they were and what they wanted in life. Taking away their homes meant taking away their dreams and they would not let that happen.”
The trials and triumphs of a a Detroit grandmother, a Chattanooga disabled man, a North Carolina businessman, and a Chicago Mother are used to illustrate how some were able to beat the corrupt banking/home loan system despite incredible odds.
Gottesdiener, 26, said the roots of the housing crisis were sown in the racist home loan practice of redlining: refusing to provide home loans in poor neighborhoods, which was employed by banks for generations.
She added that when banks finally did decide to offer loans in poor communities in the early 1990s, the banks put such onerous terms on the loans, such as huge late fees, making foreclosures on a massive scale a virtual certainty.
The foreclosure industry has galvanized a number of community action groups to step in and block homeowners from being put out of their homes.
Sometimes these groups use legal decrees and sometimes they use muscle to physically block movers from removing household goods.
Gottesdiener said she focused on communities of color because, in general, Black people who were facing eviction or worked with anti-foreclosure groups put the crisis in broader, more meaningful terms than simply losing a home.
“I’m generalizing some, but when I spoke with people in the White community about foreclosures, they said this is a disaster for the middle class and we need to get Wall Street under control.
“When I talked to the African-American community, there was an awareness that foreclosures were just a part of the racial exclusion that has taken places for years,” Gottesdiener said. “It was slavery, then sharecropping, then Jim Crow, then discriminatory lending. It was a more powerful analysis and it came from having lived through racial exclusion that Whites didn’t.”
The book is written from a progressive point of view so don’t expect a completely evenhanded treatment of the subject matter. I’m sure, for example, a spokesman for America’s banking interests could make cogent arguments that banks did some good in poor neighborhoods they provided loans to.
However, Gottesdiener’s role in writing this book is clearly not to find the crumbs America’s banks left in poor Black neighborhoods — rather it examines the bakery banks stole.
Gottesdiener’s mission was telling of the unfair lending practices that have changed Black neighborhoods forever and to give some hope in the stories of four families who wouldn’t allow themselves to become another foreclosure statistic.
It is a mission Gottesdiener has pulled off masterfully.
[Editor's Note: On Tuesday, Aug 20th, starting at 6:30 p.m., Laura Gottesdiener will be at Busboys and Poets Books at 5th and K St. NW in Washington, D.C.,to discuss her book "A Dream Foreclosed."]