Monday, December 31, 2012

Injury puts 75-year-old behind on mortgage

The woman "had no worries whatsoever" until she tripped and fell, and then lost her job shortly afterward.

Good Neighbors Fund

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Barbara, 75, who asked that her real name not be used for this story, worked all her life in the medical field and in accounting. She retired at 65, she said, but "after two years of setting [sic] around, I didn't like it."

So she retrained as a child care provider and started her third career at a large day care center, working her way up from classroom aide to assistant director in the span of 10 years.

"I loved the children," she said. At nap time, "I knew just how to pat some of them on the back, and which ones needed me to hold their hand." Despite several chronic medical problems, "I was never late for work," she said. "Work kept me going."

Barbara always rented her home, but "I got so tired of it," she said, so every month, she put aside money so she could one day buy a place of her own. In 2009, she finally felt she was financially ready. The house she chose is custom-built, but modest, and sits on a large lot. The rooms are all on one level and the yard gives Barbara the opportunity to plant the flowers she loves so much.

Barbara said she spent about $35,000 improving the house, but still managed to pay her mortgage two or three months ahead. She said she also was careful to set some cash aside in case she got sick.

"I had no worries whatsoever," she said.

Everything went well until 2010, when she tripped over the front steps and broke her leg. Her recovery took three months -- one of which she spent in a wheelchair -- and Barbara not only lost the income from her job, she had to have a nurse to stay with her at night because she lives alone and could not get in and out of bed by herself. Although she has both Medicare and Medicaid, neither program covered the cost of the nurse, who had to be paid out of her savings.

After she recovered, Barbara went back to work, but cut back to part-time hours. She was doing well until March, when her water heater broke and had to be replaced. Then, in early June, Barbara unexpectedly lost her job when the day care center she worked for closed.

The first thing she did, Barbara said, was to contact her bank, asking to modify the loan on her home. She sent them endless amounts of paperwork, she said, and was told she could ignore any foreclosure notices she might receive.

"They told me not to worry. They would do everything to help me because I was such a good customer," she said.

The foreclosure notice did come, but before the proceedings could be finalized, the bank sold her note to another company, and Barbara had to start all over again.

"If they would lower the payment, I could make it," she said. "I don't want them to give me my loan. I just want to be able to pay for my home and live in it in peace."

Shortly after losing her job, the June derecho took down several trees and destroyed a fence in her yard. She had to dip into her savings yet again to fix the damage, putting off much-needed dental work on a row of broken front teeth.

In addition to her Social Security check, Barbara receives $446 a month in unemployment benefits, but it is not enough to pay her bills. So she went to her local social services department and was enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly known as food stamps -- and was given a pamphlet listing charities that might be able to help. Among them was Roanoke Area Ministries.

By December, Barbara was five months behind in her mortgage payments and applied for help from RAM's Emergency Financial Assistance Program, which is supported by the Roanoke Times' Good Neighbors Fund. There, she was given a grant toward a mortgage payment.

"I was very thankful," she said. "There are other people my age who are facing what I'm facing and it upsets me."

Barbara said she was surprised at how well she was treated at RAM. "I didn't know there were still people that cared. I had given up. They made me feel good."

Barbara would like to go back to work, hopefully as a companion to another senior, because she knows CPR and first aid. In the meantime, she's going to try to do volunteer work to keep busy, she said, and is meeting with credit counselors to find more ways to stretch her budget. She is not certain whether her unemployment benefits will continue next month - that depends on the budget negotiations in Washington.

But if Barbara loses her house, "I have nowhere to go," she said. "I don't know what to do next. I was sure I was going to be here for the rest of my life."

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