Jun 19, 2014

You Tell Me

This week, my kids and I are putting the finishing touches on a renovation project we started at the end of last year. When we're done, I'll have the house I've always wanted, a sprawling brick ranch in a quiet community adjacent to a wildlife preserve. We have a large, fenced lot, a perfect place for our new pup to play. There's a newly poured patio and fruit trees on the property. My daughter has a music room away from the main living area, where she can play piano, sing, and record. I have a quiet study for myself, and we all finally have the big playroom we've wanted to play pool and have friends over for parties. It's a far, far cry from where we were at this time last year.

In 1999, I found myself suddenly single and raising two children with little help. For the next eight years or so, we struggled. I had a difficult time keeping a job due to my children's special needs and my own issues related to anxiety and depression. Before long, I was deeply in debt, and my once-excellent credit was ruined. We moved several times as my financial picture changed. Finally, in 2007, when I was at the end of my rope, a window of hope opened. My grandparents' former home on the same street where I grew up, and where my mother still lived, was vacated by long-time tenants. My father had just passed away after an extended illness, and my mother was happy to have me come back to our hometown.

Having a rent-free house was a blessing and a relief, but there were still utilities to pay, along with all the other expenses associated with raising a family. Of course, no debts were being repaid, as we could barely afford to eat and pay for medications. My health was continuing to fail. This entire period was very difficult for my children, who had been accustomed to a higher standard of living when their father was present. Until someone is going through it, there's no way they can really appreciate the snowball effect that is poverty. Loss in one area of life inevitably leads to another, and another. After five years of subsistence on government benefits, the occasional child support check, and charitable donations, I finally found a measure of relief in the form of Social Security Disability for myself and my children.

Getting back on our feet was a slow and incomplete process. There were a lot of people to pay back, attorney's fees, and utility bills to catch up on. Of course, appliances all broke down as soon as my disability refund check was in my hand. Still, we were in a better place financially. We were NOT in a better place physically. My grandparents' house was on a busy corner. When I was young, it had been a wonderful, safe neighborhood, full of kids my age. Our parents were content to let us happily cruise the area on our bike and stay out until the street lights came on. Thirty years later, I didn't dare do any such thing. My kids stayed indoors. There was a bus stop twenty feet from our front door, where loud riders felt free to trash our yard. Drug dealers and gangs moved in. Gunshots rang out during the night, and eventually in the light of day.

To be continued...

So, I'm just getting back to this entry after many days. A lot's happened psychically in the interim, so the tone of the continuation I'm writing now might seem a little different. Or not. Just so you know :)

The changing neighborhood... It was bad. We could watch drug deals going down from our front porch. People were threatening others they viewed as snitches, even kids. Music was much too loud. Things went 'boom' in the night, and it started to feel like a powder keg. The last-straw day was in late May, It was probably around 4:30 in the afternoon when something really wrong pierced the sunny-ness. A gunshot, and it sounded mere feet from our den windows. I hated those windows, for their large size and close proximity to the sidewalk and street. We could hear full conversations between people on their phones going by. There was what looked like a bullet hole in one of the panes when we moved in. I chose to regard it as the result of a pebble being kicked off the roadway.

Then, on a day in late May, we heard a gun shot for real just outside that window. Then there was yelling, and running. A group of teenage boys walking both sides of the street were in some kind of altercation, and one had apparently pulled out a pistol and fired a warning shot. The kids and I sprang up from where we were sitting, and our first impulses were to run toward the other side of the house. Once the kids were safe, I ventured back to the living room to peer out the windows and see what was going on. It was then that I got a  good view of the boys, probably all in their late teens. They had reached the intersection by this point, and I heard one threaten another, saying, "You see I've got this gun in my hand." I called 9-1-1, and police were on site within just a couple of minutes, but the teenagers had split and gone in different directions.

That's when our new adventure started, within moments after the police officer left our yard. My son emerged and said to me, "Mom, we've gotta get out of here. Please, I'll do anything. I know we can't afford anything better right now, but I'll get a job. Just get us out of here." I repeated to him what I had many times before, that our disability income and unreliable child support payments just couldn't support even a small house payment or rent somewhere else. I had looked already. And, even if that were possible, my ruined credit would prevent us from being approved for as much as a shoebox. But I told my son I'd look again anyway, and I sat down at the computer right then and there, to look at listings on realtor.com. Surprisingly, I soon found a house, a really inexpensive one, and it was still in my daughter's school district. It looked cute and well tended on the outside. I picked up the phone and called the listing agent, and that's how I met Gloria. Maybe this could work after all.

The next part I'll make short, even though it lasted for a period of months and was really involved and frustrating. The first house didn't work out. A shrewd investor snatched it out from under us before we knew what was happening. Anyway it had been a little too small. But I was on a roll. Mind you, I still wasn't sure how I was going to swing any of this financially, but realtor Gloria was on my side and my mom had gotten in on the game. Mom was hinting that she'd try to help in some way, though we never got down to specifics. With every house we checked out, she came along to check it out. I wasn't feeling too badly about accepting her help. I figured she owed me after a stunt she'd pulled a few years early, something that had caused me great trouble and distress, and had really damaged our relationship and my view of her.  I started a mortgage application with a BOA originator, a guy in Georgia who did 203(k) loans all over the country. By this point I had accepted the fact that my price range was really low, and I was looking at beat-up places that needed extensive renovation. We looked at two places that had potential, but the financing just wasn't working out.

My credit was even worse than I'd suspected. My banker had connected me with a colleague who specialized in rebuilding credit. She was a too-familiar-talking woman located somewhere in Florida. According to her, and following her plan of attack, it would take me at least six months to get my credit in the approval range. I lost hope at that point. I wasn't at the place of resigning myself to stay at our current location, but gave up on the fantasy of being approved for a mortgage and started looking at houses to rent or rent with an option to buy. I figured I might be able to do best with an individual rather than a property management company, maybe someone who wouldn't be such a stickler for credit. Still, I was banking on my mother as a cosigner in either case. But by now she had started looking for a new place of her own. She wanted to leave her home of nearly fifty years and find something newer, something where she didn't have to worry about maintenance. It was a good idea, but I knew her going from a place with no mortgage to a place that would probably cost her $1,000 per month would make her a less-likely candidate for helping me out.

To be continued...

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