East St. Paul teen knows firsthand. She's rooting for a foreclosure measure, OK'd last week by the U.S. House, to pass.
High school senior Amber Vickerman has never eaten lunch with a member of Congress. But on Monday, she sat next to Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and told her that losing your home is really tough on a kid.
The teen said she'll pack up her bedroom and 17 years' worth of memories in a few months when her family loses its home to foreclosure. Her parents owned their east St. Paul home for 20 years, but refinanced their mortgage a couple of years ago when they needed to buy a car to transport a family member with cancer.
When the new mortgage's interest rate, her parents could not keep up with the payments.
"I'm hoping Congress passes something so that banks have to work with people and help them,'' said Vickerman, a Johnson Senior High student who wrote her senior thesis on the impact of the nation's mortgage crisis on east St. Paul.
"I lived in this area all my life and want to stay here.''
A bill passed by the U.S. House last week, called the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, would help an estimated 500,000 mortgage holders trade their at-risk loans for more affordable mortgages backed by the federal government. Vickerman's parents would have been prime candidates for such a program.
McCollum was in St. Paul Monday to learn more about how that bill might affect the area she represents. She and a half-dozen community leaders joined a van tour of boarded up houses on the city's East Side. Featuring everything from quaint historic homes to modest ramblers to dilapidated shacks, the tour was a lesson in the domino effect of mortgage foreclosures.
Amber Vickerman and her father, Eldon, got a close look at some of these foreclosed homes this winter, when they drove around documenting foreclosures and taking pictures for her thesis. In the back of her mind, Amber Vickerman was thinking about what she would keep and what she'd leave behind when time comes to pack.
"I have a few things I know I have to bring, like my teddy bear, Olive, and my blue blanket from when I was a kid,'' said Vickerman.
"Having to leave your home can really change a person. You have to stay strong for your family, but getting everything out of your house and going to school is hard.''
The people touring the East Side on Monday didn't have Vickerman's personal connection to the problem, but were still deeply concerned over the volume of homes affected -- more than 800 in east St. Paul alone..
"This is Sims [Avenue]: Look at the number of homes on the list," St. Paul Planning Commissioner Rich Kramer told the group as he clutched a sheet of paper showing 12 foreclosures on the 600 block alone.
McCollum, St. Paul City Council Member Dan Bostrom and a half-dozen other community leaders stepped out of the van to check out the street where half of the homes display foreclosure papers taped to the front doors. The street was like a ghost town.
Rather than having homeowners walk away from such homes, the House foreclosure bill would have the Federal Housing Administration insure mortgages for eligible homeowners provided their banks forgive a portion of the debt and let homeowners stay in their homes. Critics have called the bill a bailout for irresponsible homeowners. But the bill has some bipartisan support, said McCollum, and the Senate is considering similar legislation.
Eldon Vickerman, who said his attempts to work out a payment plan with his bank went nowhere, liked the concept.
(Their mortgage interest rate, initially 8 percent, jumped to 12 percent at the refinancing.)
Said Vickerman: "I don't feel like anyone is watching out for people like me.''
Jean Hopfensperger • 651-298-1553