Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Here’s to the American Dream

By Sabrina Pandora

I’d like for this to see some circulation, folks, so if you could repost it and ask that it be passed along, I would very much appreciate it. Maybe if enough people read it then maybe someone might be held accountable for these sort of things, and it might save someone else from the same fate.

When I met Wendie Goers, she was just beginning her gender transition, and amongst the advice that I gave her, I warned her that in order to finally gain possession of her own soul and be true to herself, she would have to be prepared to lose everything. How true that advice has proven to be today.

I lost my job in early 2009, and she lost her job in mid 2009. We both set to hunting work with a fervor, making our daily job to seek out opportunities to get us back into the workforce. She fretted and worried but I reassured her… something would give, someone would hire us. We were intelligent, motivated and experienced- sure, we were a little unusual, but that wouldn’t put people off in a tolerant city like Atlanta.

We worked, we chased, we hunted… and we failed. We drained our savings, we drained our retirement, we drained our nest egg, we sold everything in sight and traded like fur trappers on the Mississippi. We kept other folk’s spirits up, fed the hungry that came to our door and did our best to be a haven for those in need and for those whose circumstances were poor- after all, that’s part of the American Dream. Take care of people and be good folks, help out here and there, do what you can… part of what makes America great, and what makes Atlanta such a nice city. We kept at it and kept at it, all the while with me reassuring Wendie that something had to give eventually… and I was oh so terribly wrong.

I think my favorite ‘opportunity’ was the one where it came down to Wendie or the other candidate for a job with An Unnamed Workshop, and they decided to hire the other candidate (with the possibility of Wendie getting contract work). We later found out that the other candidate had lied extensively about her skills and experience, which Wendie had not… and of course, Wendie was never contacted for contract work ever, nor even reconsidered for the position, never contacted... hell, they couldn’t even be bothered to reply to her inquiries. In the end they apparently rehired the person who had quit and just gave them a big old raise instead. It beat hiring a tranny I guess. You know what those people are like, after all. They put people off and scare away customers.

So that brings us to our current topic- our beloved and embattled home. Wells Fargo financed Wendie’s purchase of our home back in 2005, when she put 20% down and bought into the idea that this was a ‘transitional neighborhood’. If that transition meant ‘from bad to worse’ then that description was accurate- the original note for the home was $189,000. Today it is valued at $40,000- how’s that for a transition?

Now, if we’d been smart, we would have seen the writing on the wall when we first became unemployed, realized that we were now unemployable by virtue of being middle-aged transwomen in Atlanta and just walked away from the mortgage, let it slide into bankruptcy and used the money we still had at that point to just buy a foreclosure elsewhere free and clear and been better off for our trouble. But instead we played it straight. We believed in the American Dream. We held out hope for change, kept at it and slowly burned through every resource we had.

Finally in 2011 we got a break and an idea… if we could go back to school, then we could get loans and grants and that could help keep us afloat while we learned a trade. Cosmetology is a career that is historically open and embraces ‘alternate lifestyles’- or as we liked to put it, “Let’s get into a field where nobody cares that we’re big girls with deep voices!” Then we got more good news- Wells Fargo had a mortgage assistance program that could get our payments lowered, and if we qualified, we could get our mortgage payment lowered for good! We were still sinking, but we were treading water like champions now. All we had to do was make it out of school and we would have trade skills in a field that would embrace us, and more importantly, hire us. We could do this!

Or not.

First we got our bit of news from one of the preeminent salons in town, who pointed out that while effeminate gay men are always in fashion with moneyed women, transwomen never will be, and they wouldn’t ever consider hiring us… and they weren’t alone. Our dream of a new career took a hit, but we persevered. We could make it work… we could just work within the gay community, because we didn’t repel them; or at least, not as much as so very many of the straight community.

Then came the notice that not only had our mortgage assistance program run its course; great, were we approved for a new payment structure? Hahaha! Not only were we not approved, we now owed even more than we had been ‘assisted’ for over that six month period. So either pay Wells Fargo five grand plus right here and now or we foreclose… wait, what?!? Can’t we appeal? Sure, feel free. Don’t expect Wells Fargo to respond though. Is there someone else we can speak to?

Nope, it has to go through the one guy handling your case who doesn’t want to talk to you, return your calls or acknowledge any paperwork that you send in. Well, if we can scrape them together can we at least make regular mortgage payments for now? Nope, your payment option is frozen until you pay us… wait, six grand and change now, all in one lump sum. No, wait, scratch that, we’ve decided that we’re just going to foreclose on you. Oh, and don’t expect much communication about it either… here’s a month’s notice to get out of your home, and be grateful for that.

Now, I am not a businesswoman, obviously. So I do not understand the intricacies of mortgage financing… particularly the part where refinancing the home to keep a couple who has clawed and struggled to hold on to a home in a terrible DMZ of a neighborhood, who have watched the value of the home plummet lower and lower, who have braved drive-by shootings and muggings on their doorstep to try to hold on and turn the neighborhood around is not preferable to simply dumping the property.

See, here is Wells Fargo logic at work. If they can take a loss on the remaining $140,000 of this note- which they will, oh boy will they- and force us to default, then they can sell the house as a foreclosure on the courthouse steps. Let’s see, according to the Fulton County tax assessor’s figures, on the average that means that this house should sell for about $10,000. Yup, ten grand, leaving $130,000 for them to write off (though they did collect fifty grand from us in the seven years we’ve been here).

Is that how they paid their bailout money off?

And then the house will likely be bought by an investor who has never set foot in this neighborhood (nor will they) who will just as likely turn what was once our home into Section 8 housing… at least, after the repair all of the damage that will occur as soon as we aren’t here, like replacing the AC unit and furnace the locals will steal for copper, the refrigerator they will steal outright, the gutters they will tear off for the aluminum… it is a lot like watching locusts attack a farm crop, really.

I know, you think I am exaggerating… sadly, I am not. There is a reason almost all of the AC units in this neighborhood have cages welded around them.
So here we are, still trying to get out of school- hey, the congressional cut to the grant program really helped too, America, thanks for that. So much for helping out with the bills. We got a little money, but finding out it was going to be cut right in the middle of our scholastic career was a winner for sure. And now after all of this we’ll lose our home, the nearby property values will decline that much more, and we will be out on the streets with severely damaged credit after all of our savings has been poured into a home that is no longer ours.

I’d like to tell you that through all of this I still have optimism, that I still have hope. I would like to tell you that this story will have a happy ending and that a miracle will come along and save our home, and let us keep our little house in the ghetto that we’ve worked so hard on to make it a nice place, where we were going to build a salon in the garage so that we would be able to give ourselves jobs in a field that apparently isn’t very fond of us, but at least might support us. I would like to say that I still believe in the American Dream- that perseverance, doing the right thing, working hard and being good honest people still pays off.

I’d like to say that, but damned if it would be very convincing through all of the tears.

No comments:

Post a Comment