Community Columns

In foreclosure crisis, some lose more than their homes

I admit, I haven't felt very sympathetic to homeowners who have fallen victim to foreclosure during the housing downturn. After all, a very small percentage were victims of mortgage fraud. Most simply were victims of their own irresponsibility, as my thinking went.

Whatever happened to the old standards of responsible home buying: 10 percent to 20 percent down and a mortgage payment that accounts for no more than 30 percent of your gross monthly income?

Buyers who used risky loans to buy houses they couldn't afford simply were gambling on the housing market's continued growth. Gambling is not a responsible way to enter into what is probably the largest debt on your financial statement. And don't get me started on those who used home equity loans to build pools, buy toys and finance vacations. Where has fiscal responsibility gone?

Even in foreclosure, most lost nothing but their credit. After all, there had been little to no down payment, and their interest-only payments to date amounted to little more than monthly rent.

But my thinking didn't account for Haley. Haley is a sweet little girl who is nearing her first birthday. Haley didn't just lose her home in the housing downturn; she lost part of her family.

The last time I saw Haley was in October, when she was 5 months old and I was impatiently awaiting the any-day-now arrival of my firstborn. Haley was in a restaurant with her mom and grandparents, visiting her dad, who was waiting tables at night as a second job. I knew times were getting tough; her dad's commission-based mortgage job was paying less and less, and they owned a big new house in Turlock. Mom's part-time teaching job helped, but they couldn't afford the child care needed for Mom to teach full time. So Dad was working two jobs to make ends meet, like any loving father would. Though the situation was tough, this family still looked happy and full of hope.

Five short months later, I have my own little girl, and Haley's home is gone. She lives with her mom in her grandparents' house, and her parents are separated with little hope of reconciliation. Perhaps it was the financial strain that led her dad to walk out on his family; I never will know for sure, and I cannot judge. But as I look at my own beautiful daughter, drinking in her huge smiles and infectious giggles, I can't help but reflect on the daily joy this father has lost.

Haley will be just fine. She has an incredibly strong, loving, courageous mother who is working to put their lives back together. She has supportive grandparents on both sides doing what they can to help, and the prayers of friends like us. But I can't look at another foreclosure statistic without wondering about the families that those numbers represent.

What, besides their credit, have they lost?

Gatzman is a former visiting editor with The Bee. Write to her at