“A Dream Foreclosed” tells the stories of black Americans dealing with foreclosure, eviction and forced homelessness.
Investigative journalist and social justice activist Laura Gottesdiener details the experiences of African Americans as victims of predatory loans and mortgages with ballooning rates. She links the current economic and housing status of African Americans to the post-Civil War era when former slaves needed to own property to be considered truly free; 150 years later, homeownership is still a deeply cherished symbol of independence, stability and citizenship for African Americans.
Through her involvement with Take Back the Land, a national network of African American housing groups and housing justice organizers, Gottesdiener was able to connect to individuals who felt deliberately targeted by loan sharks and got caught in a whirlpool of debt. She profiled four of these families in her book. Gottesdiener pays special attention to the fact that foreclosure not only takes away someone’s shelter, but it ruins the stability of low income, tight-knit neighborhoods. After the families are evicted, the banks either sell the homes for much less than they are valued, or they board them up. Many try to buy their own homes back, but are often denied. Gottesdiener explains that abandoned houses are prime real estate for drug dealers to set up shop.
And families suffer not only economic loss, but also physical and emotional losses. For Bertha Garrett, a strong-willed religious mother in Detroit, Mich., a home is nothing without family. "[Home] is a place where children are born and adults die,” she says (page 5). She tears up realizing her youngest daughter will not be married in the same backyard as the rest of her children.
Many former homeowners are engulfed with shame, embarrassment, and depression. For some, it is too much to handle.
Foreclosure and other setbacks due to the economic crisis reportedly led to more than two hundred suicides since 2008. Gottesdiener quotes TomDispatch.com managing editor Nick Turse who wrote in In These Times, “Wall Street’s financial meltdown is beginning to be measured not only in dollars and cents, but also in blood. Without debt- or mortgage-forgiveness, more casualties are sure to come."
“Since 2007, the foreclosure crisis has displaced at least 10 million people from more than four million homes across the country,” Gottesdiener wrote in a post for TomDispatch.com.
Mass displacement and lack of space are the biggest issues for the foreclosed, causing trauma and poverty. Approximately 640,000 people in the U.S. are living under bridges, in their cars, or in shelters, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (page 97). But for Trisha James of Chicago, Ill., sleeping on a bench in the dead of winter was not the biggest issue. For her, being homeless hit hardest emotionally. “It feels like nobody loves you,” she said (page 99).
Eviction leaves many homeless, but not by the government’s standards. Some spend years shuffling from relative to relative and car to car every night, unsure of where they will be tomorrow. People like Marline Greene of Chattanooga, Tenn., who told Gottesdiener, “My whole life is like Russian roulette” (page 91). If these people were counted, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports nearly seven million homeless people in the United States.
Because Gottesdiener is an activist, “A Dream Foreclosed” provides an insider’s perspective. Those affected by foreclosure are not just statistics; they are people whose lives have been shattered, and they are ready to work together to make sure everyone has access to the American Dream. Perhaps that’s why Gottesdiener manages to maintain an optimistic outlook in “A Dream Foreclosed.” “To me, what was inspiring about this was solidarity,” she said. “Real solidarity between homeowners, renters, people."