Monday, December 16, 2013

It's A Thin Line Between "Law" And "Lose" - The Heartbreaking Truth About Homeowning

Ever since we were small we were told that a huge portion of the American Dream was owning your own home. I don't think it matters where you came from, it simply always was an indication of having succeeded in life. For so many people it meant more than just a place to call your own, it was a further shrugging off of years of struggle for one's family line. I know what it feels like to be the first in a long line of family to have accomplished a goal before any other generation. While my father went to college at night, he was the first in our family to graduate and when I did, I was the first woman. These things resonate far greater than just the chance to add a few zeroes to our salaries. We were setting trends for our family line, setting examples for our children and their children and so the accomplishment was held dearly to us.

It never bothered me that I needed a government program to qualify for my home. In fact I was quite proud that with help from my country I was going to begin creating a foundation in my community and I set about to not only be a model resident but to see how my presence can help others there. I was and wanted to be a true and dedicated "daughter" of NY. While all the paperwork was quite intimidating it was my love for the law that saw me through the first grip of fear. The mountain of forms, all so alien, a language that only lawyers could volley back and forth with ease, was daunting to say the least that even this engineer was timid.

I'd wanted to be a lawyer most of my life but engineering was the focus in my school and so my love of math and science began to overshadow my love of justice and order. I reached out to the spouse of a friend, a real estate attorney and with the stars aligned, so many of my friends pitching in, I happily signed the mortgage to my quaint one family house for me and my sons in the Summer of 2005. I was frightened at the responsibilities (many to be thrust upon me almost immediately and the rest almost stealthily as if to knock me off my foundation all together) but I had faith, in me, my desire to do right by my sons and my city.

It didn't take very long to find out that a two hour class is nothing but a horrible joke to a new home owner. No one can really prepare you for what happens next. If is as if the city agencies wakes from it's monstrous sleep and notices you all of a sudden. Now you are beholden to all of them for something. The money you thought you made and would be enough to exist in this new found "freedom" isn't and realistically could never be if you don't wrangle very quickly everything that you will now be responsible for.

You are expected to pay for garbage, even if it's not your own but thrown on your property, you pay for water, for heat, for gas, for light, cable if you can afford it. I laugh because I am sure I'm not the first, nor the last homeowner, whose first purchase was a nice TV and hooking up cable so that the boys and I could enjoy watching in our very own home a major motion picture, just as we'd seen so many other families do on television.

We are responsible for shoveling snow immediately following a snowstorm. (you have three hours grace or that ticket will find its way into your mailbox) You should know your recycling schedule inside and out, sweep every day, even if your nasty neighbors are the cause for all the mess, make sure that there are no pebbles or tree roots or obstructions that might cause an accident or you, yes you HOME OWNER will be held liable.

I used to want to be a lawyer, until I began having trouble making ends meet in 2008. Then the mortgage lender began making threats that scared even a staunch advocate like me. They could and would ruin my credit if I didn't hurry up and comply with their demands and then I'd get the calls offering these olive branches which were really horrible scams to get me to sign away my rights and my life's finances and according to them it was legal. I was being shaken down and I didn't see it until I was in a strange office surrounded by smiling lawyers, all who worked for the lender who tried to explain that although the refinance wasn't what I had expected it was the best I could get and so if I kept asking questions and refused to sign then all I'd need to do was pay a few thousand dollars and walk out. But it's because I was struggling that I was there to begin with and I stood there cornered, being made to feel small and unprepared and foolish.

It became worse after that first deal with the devil. The more life and the municipalities shoveled onto my wavering back, with fees for this and fines for that, I found myself getting ill, terribly ill. By this time I was working three jobs, my nine to five and as many part time jobs and projects as I could handle. It lasted a year and then the floodgates broke. I spent six months in bed, doctors (when I could afford to go) kept telling me I was working myself into an early grave and truthfully that sounded quite restful and lucrative, for my sons at least. No amount of studying could bring me up to speed to every pitfall that could and would befall a home owner in this town and this town didn't care what you knew or didn't know - pay up or we're coming after the house.

By the second refinance scam where I tried to thwart the NEW mortgage lender off by hiring an attorney for almost a quarter of my retirement savings I had come to realize a little too late that I had entered a red light district and that I was the gullible tourist whose only recourse is to either let them fleece you a little bit or barely escape with your life. The attorney walked away with all the money and did nothing to keep the wolves at bey.

It was never my intent to be someone so in debt that doing nothing was ever an option but four years later, two lawyers later, three college tuitions, utilities and car payments, water bills quadrupled with no notice later, I am so in debt that sometimes I feel death could wash it all away and at least my sons would have a shot at a life. Thoughts of moving mean nothing, your credit rating follows you and the bank made sure to tether me to this Titanic. My American Dream was a living nightmare and one I couldn't burden my sons with because while all this was happening, at least I'd had a sense to make their lives matter more.

Fast forward and now I am a Pro Se Debtor. Nice. It means I'm on my own. It means that the fear that gripped me from fighting had better find it's guts now or in a year the house that I've raised my sons in for the last eight years will be sold out from under me. No one mentioned that you had to answer the summons by going TO A COURT HOUSE until it was too late but what the hell, I believe in miracles and while I have amazing friends who said they'd help and truly tried, I knew that it was my sense of failure that drove my maniacal drive to work 80-90 hours on things that might bear fruit so that I could at least have options if the time came to leave this place.

I've told the boys and I do thank goodness that I was able to accomplish my mission: to raise my sons in a haven of consistency, a place they knew that was theirs to begin with, where they could lay their heads at night and feel safe and sure and energized every morning so that they could face the day and the world with strength and conviction. I did that. My youngest is almost out of high school and while there is still that chance that he and I might have to find a small place next year, at least I know the brunt of my work has been done.

I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up and dealing with those who preyed on the unknowing has soured me considerably. Yet when I speak to my friends, the lawyers, the Supermans, the ones who go out to save the days for others, I may feel sheepish about how caught out there I was but they tell me I'm one of millions, all being taken advantage of. It seems it's easy money to swindle a family than it is to help it thrive and possibly earn a lifelong customer. After all we seem to be only a dime a dozen.

I loved order, the law and I might lose to someone else's brand of it. Then again, miracles do happen and maybe I'm walking from one fire into an amazing opportunity to help others. I have always loved finding the positive in things for others and I guess it's time I look at the positive in this - it may take a while.

So here goes, as I fill out my answer, truthfully, humbly, that I never set out to be a resident who simply couldn't comply with all of the city's rules and mazes of conditions to just live here and that now I may never be able to find something for me and my son if the bank takes the house. I don't think anyone goes in thinking all that, it's just they entered into a place that only few can truly survive. It is so sad that so many fall when if we all were able to thrive this city would be so much better off.

I love the law. I still do. There are lawyers out there still fighting for the little people. There are judges who know that someone means it when they say that given a fair shake they'd make good on their debt and there are miracles every day. As I get closer to the end of this eight year nightmare I find I'm letting go of the death grip of fear I've had all these years, the one where there is a knock at the door and my sons and I are forced to find someplace else to live. Well, I guess it's time. Let's do this.

Carmen M. Colon is a mother, an engineer, an education and childrens advocate, an author and a workshop facilitator on the topics of leadership, womens empowerment, career advancement and now on parenting. She is writing a series of "Dear Kids" letters to her three sons on a series of topics and issues.
Her website is
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