With the midterm elections over, I am left to wonder: how will the new Congress help struggling Americans who face losing their home. Will there be better and more streamlined mortgage modification programs? Will there be a shift in the economic climate that will promote jobs growth? Will Congress again take up the debate of amending the bankruptcy code to allow owners of single family residences to modify their loans in chapter 13?
I am not optimistic.
When he was running for President, Barak Obama was characterized by Elizabeth Warren as “the candidate to discuss consumer bankruptcy in a general election.” I recall hearing talk. As for action though, I have not seen it. Chapter 13 remains as it was in 2005 (although there’s a really good book about chapter 13 that’s been published since then).
HAMP and other modification programs still continue to be a mess. Phone calls are not returned, documents are lost, only to be resubmitted. I have a client who was denied a modification after more than 12 grueling months of sending, faxing, waiting and hoping. When I called to discuss the next steps I was told to simply reapply for another modification and “see what happens.” A part of me thinks my client would have better odds at a Casino. And what am I seeing? Even when the modifications come, even when you get the numbers to work and the modification gets approved, something seems to go wrong.
One client is having a bear of a time trying to rent out her first floor apartment. It’s not that she’s asking too much; it’s that her empty apartment is just one of several on her quiet little street in an outlying Boston neighborhood. And her quiet little street is just one of many in her outlying Boston neighborhood that have empty apartments. When that income is needed to make a mortgage payment, I have to wonder at what point I will find myself again trying to get another modification…or buy more time. But honestly, I’m not so sure we’re going to have the same luck the second time around…especially if that apartment isn’t rented.
For another client, it is not an empty apartment – it’s a lost job. Just a few months after another client got his modification, he found himself unemployed…his department was “restructured.” The rental income and unemployment benefits will not be enough to keep the mortgage current – and buy food and other necessities. I am waiting for something to change: either his circumstances or his goals. Until then, all I can do is buy time.
Since the 2008 election, I’ve met with scores of people who have all – in one way or another – been hopeful that things would change for the better: that their President and their government would not allow them to lose their home. Yet, the focus of Washington has not been on jobs or on the foreclosure crisis. Little – in the legal world of consumer insolvency law – has significantly changed to benefit consumers. Anyone that tells you differently is selling you something.
When hope fades, there is no shame in throwing your hands up and saying “enough!” Think of it like having to put a beloved pet to sleep…something that I’ve had to do more than once in my life…it sucks, but it’s what must be done where there really is nothing left to do.
Admittedly, I wonder: if people are not running out of hope – after taking all of these issues and more into consideration – are they running out of time before inevitably that very painful decision must be made. And if they have waited too long to salvage what’s meaningful and important to them, what options are left? These questions do vex me.
Even though I have made some pretty strong remarks against hope, I have had occasions to remind some clients that hope is what gets you out of bed in the morning. But hope alone is never enough to save what is important. Hope…when there doesn’t seem to be any real reason to be hopeful…is just a path to inevitable disappointment. And as an insolvency attorney, I love my job the most when the path I am able to point to is one of a new beginning, to a new and better place in life: one that is truly full of hope.
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