Twenty years ago, my husband and I bought a three-bedroom ranch-style home. It had wall-to-wall carpet and avocado green tile in the kitchen.
For 15 of those years, we paid the mortgage on time, raised two children, bought a dog, planted lavender and made friends with the neighbors. The trees in our yard grew tall, the children eventually left, and we were empty-nesters.
And then, after 30 years and with no pension or retirement benefits, my husband lost his decent-paying job as the manager of a health food store, replaced by the owner's much younger son. At 55 and without a college degree, my husband couldn't find another management position in retail, so he took a job for less than $15 an hour but with health benefits. I was making a good living as a freelance writer, so we figured we could make it.
But we couldn't. Our mortgage payments slipped further and further behind. After 15 years of paying on time, our credit score dipped into the 600s. We sought out refinancing, but because of our lower income and the fact that I was self-employed, the only option was a subprime mortgage, complete with killer readjustments down the road.
For the last five years, we have struggled. I'd anxiously been waiting for President Obama's plan, the one the administration is calling "Making Home Affordable," since he came into office. I've checked in with all the bureaucracies; I'm disappointed that we are not eligible for any help because of our history of late payments and the fact that we are not underwater just yet.
For those who say all homeowners in this type of trouble are foolish and irresponsible, I take offense. I'm not talking about the speculators or flippers. I'm talking about homeowners, average Americans like my husband and me who took a house and turned it into a home, but ran into bad luck.
Recently we risked money to retain a lawyer to deal with our lender, who can't quite seem to come up with a modification plan for us.
My hope is that as many people who can take advantage of the housing stimulus funding will do so. At least 40 percent of the homeowners in trouble should be able to get a lower monthly payment. They should brave the system, forget the ugly comments by holier-than-thou pundits and do the very best they can to keep their homes.
As for us, we are a few hundred dollars short on our next payment, but somehow the lawyer and I will work it out with the lender. Those guys definitely don't want to own another house in this community, especially one with avocado green tile.
Candice Reed, coauthor of "Thank You for Firing Me," scheduled for publication in early 2010, wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.