Children, David Trott — July 6, 2016 at 9:22 am

Evictions, Foreclosures, and Family Values


My county commissioner sent us a questionnaire soliciting input that would enable him to represent constituent views effectively. One question in particular nagged at me because it was more specific than all the others, had not appeared on any of the other dozens of political questionnaires I receive in a political season, and was not a topic du jour in the media:

“To whatever extent allowable under law should the county Treasurer’s Office take all steps possible to prevent tax foreclosures of owner-occupied homes, even after three years of nonpayment of property taxes, which requires foreclosure under state law?”

A snap judgment might be that three years is enough time to come up with only one year’s worth of property taxes to forestall a foreclosure and possible eviction. But the operative part of the question seemed to be “take all steps possible to prevent tax foreclosures of owner-occupied homes.” An occupied house is someone’s home. And many of us forget what our homes meant to us as children. The very idea of a home is more important to a child than we realize.

By way of example, back in 2012 when Barack Obama was running for re-election, I attended a campaign volunteers meeting at a local union hall where there was much discussion of the toll the recession had taken on the lives of ordinary Americans, particularly the problem of dislocation. An older woman at the meeting recounted how her adult daughter had lost her job and then her house, forcing her and the woman’s nine year-old granddaughter to move in with her. One day the woman and her granddaughter took a bike ride back to the child’s old neighborhood and stopped in front of the house that had been the little girl’s home for most of her nine years. The girl suddenly threw down her bike, ran up to the side door of the house, pounded on it violently for several minutes and then fell to the ground in uncontrollable sobs. The grandmother could not console her. It was an unanticipated grief reaction of enormous display.

And now comes the report of a long term study in Denmark to determine the effects that moving during childhood has on shaping adults, and it suggests that a child’s home is more important to his development than we may have realized. I invite you to read the summary at the Washington Post. The study fails to take into account several variables, but it has utility in pointing out what most would assume anyway. Dislocation is an early life trauma that mirrors late in life trauma when the elderly are forced from their homes into nursing homes or the homes of family members due to infirmity or finances. It results in health, social, educational, financial, behavioral and perhaps even in spiritual consequences that seriously constrain one’s ability to go forward in life.

Today in Michigan one in every 1,722 homes in Michigan is in foreclosure. Just two years ago Michigan had the third highest number of foreclosures in the nation at 50,000. And recently Detroit was named Eviction City in a prominent news report. That’s a lot of families that must pack up and move on.

With regard to wholesale human displacement and its undeniably destructive consequences, say, like children not doing well in an unfamiliar school and parents lacking transportation to better paying jobs, I thought of those who profit from such misfortunes. Michigan Congressman Dave Trott became fabulously wealthy in the foreclosure business (See the 2015 film “99 Homes” with Michael Shannon for some parallels); Mitt Romney, whose Bain Capital prospered by breaking apart and closing businesses and laying off workers; and Donald Trump and his bankruptcies that stiffed small businesses and employees while he personally prospered and his so-called university that encouraged indebtedness among those who could not afford it. They are the prominent garish faces of capitalism run amok, while the sobbing face of a displaced nine year-old girl grieving the loss of her home is dismissed as the routine collateral damage to that same system.

Finally, as I completed the commissioner’s questionnaire I checked “yes” because the question itself hints that there may be ways to stop or at least mitigate the pain of displacement. History has given us a special vocabulary for forgiveness: pardon, absolution, remission, moratorium, stay, amnesty, refinance, restructure, bail-out, even jubilee. When capitalism’s excesses deliver gut punches, as they have during the Great Recession and now in its ongoing aftermath of low wages, crushing student loan debt, and dimmed prospects of upward mobility, there must be something positive that can be done, some form of forgiveness for the victims and not just more profits for the predators.

[CC image credit: respres|Flickr]