When I wrote my last novel Rocket Man about a man struggling to keep his home, I emphasized the chaos of the American Dream and threw everything but the kitchen sink at my poor main character. Now this fictional character seems to have moved down the pike into the mainstream of suburban America. A bank representative told me years ago that what we would have in this country is a nation of squatters. He said that so many people will go into foreclosure that the banks will not be able to take reclaim the homes and there will be people living in their homes for years as squatters. This has come to pass.
A new report by the Brookings Institution reveals that "the largest and fastest-growing population of poor people in the U.S. is in the suburbs." Overall, the report showed that from 2000 to 2008, the number of poor people in the U.S. grew by 5.2 million, reaching nearly 40 million, 15.4 percent increase. That still does not include figures from 2009, when joblessness and foreclosures skyrocketed. But what is staggering is the amount of people who are upside down in their homes and have stopped paying their mortgages. They are the new squatters.
I personally know several families that are in this situation. One man has not paid his mortgage for three years and has taken in borders. He said he has not heard from the bank for years. This is happening because the banks cannot keep up and they cannot reclaim all of this property. Instead they just leave people in these homes hoping they will keep them up until they sell or until they can finally foreclose. But we have thousands if not millions of people living this way now.
The suburbs were supposed to be our haven, the last place where poverty and urban blight could take hold. And like the facade that is the suburbs, this blight can only be seen by those following foreclosures. The squatters could be your neighbor and you would never know it right up to the day the moving van arrives.
Oh...the bank rep who made this prediction years ago...he became a stock broker.
William Hazelgrove is the writer in residence for the Ernest Hemingway Foundation. http://www.billhazelgrove.com