By Chris Levister –
The annual December 26 to January 1 celebration of Kwanzaa represents the harvest of the first fruits and vegetables, a time when African-Americans pause to confront the principles of faith, direction, purpose and self-determination. But the sense of direction is not so clear for thousands of African American homeowners this year who are bracing for a ‘Foreclosure Kwanzaa’.
“People like me aren’t in the holiday mode.” That’s Fontana mother Marcella Berry wrapping and boxing her traditional Kwanzaa candles along with dozens of family photographs, books and Christmas ornaments. “I’m worried about what’s going to happen to my house. How much longer am I going to be able to stay here?”
Berry says that much of the joy of Christmas and Kwanzaa is missing this year as she fights to hang on to her home in Fontana.
The single mother and laid off insurance adjustor may live in an epicenter of the U.S. housing crisis, but she is far from any stereotype conjured up in coverage of the record number of Americans whose homes are in foreclosure.
She is not a real estate speculator, house flipper or rental property investor. She did not lie about her income or buy more house than she could afford. She was not lured into home.
What happened to Marcella Berry could happen to anyone: She got sick, lost her job and fell behind on her house payments.
“Frankly some days it hurts to wake up,” she said. Since January, 2008, life for Berry has been a rollercoaster of nerves and frustration, failed loan modifications, broken promises made by realtors and bankers, hours of financial counseling and at least three legislative hearings like the one she attended in Van Nuys this week.
“You come away feeling pumped. You see others in the same boat. But at the end of the day it’s every man and woman for themselves.” Berry says she’s been turned down twice for loan modification and the realtor who promised to help won’t return her calls.
Berry says it’s not a coincidence law enforcement officers delivered a final eviction notice on the same day President Barack Obama expressed frustration to the leaders of the nation’s banks.
“They are ‘fat cats’,” referring to the comments the President made Sunday on “60 Minutes”.
“I believe Obama really wants to help homeowners, but if the banks are arrogant enough to thumb their noses at him after they got $78 billion in bail out money, there’s not a lot of hope for the people suffering on Main Street.”
Still there are glimmers of hope on the economic and housing fronts. Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo have repaid billions in Tarp funds and Inland Empire home foreclosures in November declined for the fourth consecutive month as banks continued to work with borrowers to avert repossessions.
However, default rates in the region remain among the highest in the nation.
One in every 101 Riverside County homes and 1 in every 104 San Bernardino properties were in some stage of default, according to figures released by Irvine-based RealtyTrac. Daren Blomquest, a spokesman for the online foreclosure tracking service, said overall Inland foreclosurerelated actions dropped 19 percent from October to November. That’s up 6.7% from a year ago.
Berry isn’t ready to throw in the towel however, she remains optimistic she will hang on to her home.
“I’m in talks with a “last ditch” lender.” If all else fails she says, “I’ll light a candle and stake my claim on the Seventh Principle of Kwanzaa: ‘Imani’ – Faith.”