March 18, 2009

Neighbors

There's a family that lived in the house nearly across the street from us. They actually lived a little too far down the street to quality as across the street. Their house isn't big by any stretch of the imagination yet, somehow, they managed to fit themselves and their extended family between those four walls. They're a nice family. Their oldest - son from his previous marriage - is a handfull, terrorizing the neighborhood with his skateboard (man, do I sound 80 and crotchety). Their youngest was born just after Owen. Their middle child is a few years older than Mia.

Last weekend, a truck showed up and they started cramming it full of their stuff. The truck made at least a half-dozen round trips over the next several days. On Sunday, the house apparently empty, the entire family returned armed with cleaning supplies.

It doesn't sound strange or remarkable or noteworthy, I know. I mean, they were moving. So what. We found out why on Monday. When the foreclosure sign went up. This economy thing is hitting way too close to home. Literally.

It's as a result of this that I've decided I want to be independently wealthy. There are two reasons.

Reason 1. Financial independence alleviates the need to worry about the whole economy thing and, frankly, that would be nice since that's been keeping me up at night lately.
Reason 2. It would be nice to help folks avoid fates like that of our neighbors.

Imagine being able to back a spectacularly bad business model like this: A homeowner who hasn't overextended him or herself and, through a series of bad luck, can't make their mortgage payments. So for a period up to six months in length, you make their payments for them asking only a third of their actual payment. Or a fourth. Whatever they can cope with. The reasons?

When we were out looking for houses a couple years back, the foreclosure thing had just started to become a reality. The foreclosed houses were a mess. When their owners were notified, they'd trash the place, making the house more of a liability for the bank than an asset. These people - our neighbors - took a day of their time, armed with mops and vacuums, and cleaned the place. Shouldn't they get bonus karma points for that?

And that's when I noodled through a crazier idea, one that sounds incredibly cheesy and impossibly naive. Wouldn't life be nicer if we could all just help each other?

I mean, imagine living in a world in which you knew your neighbors had your back, in which we weren't all putting our reliance on a ginormous government to bail us out, in which trust is honored and human dignity and the belief that it is our absolute right to prosper and help our fellow man do just that is valued above all else. Yes, I realize it's crazy. But if we lose that - if we stop caring for each other, turn our backs on those who need help - how are we different from, well, dogs. I'm not suggesting we lick each others' asses (unless that's what you're into) but being nicer to each other might be a good place to start.

When something happens halfway around the world or even in the next town over, it's easy to rationalize, to feel sorry for whoever it was who was impacted. But it's also easy to leave your perfect impenetrable bubble intact. But when it's your neighbor, it's harder to maintain that distance. The question becomes, am I next?

I've asked before but I'll phrase it a little differently this time - if money were no option and if conventional wisdom was thrown out the window - what would you do to fix the economy? What would your magic bullet be?

Posted by Chris at March 18, 2009 6:35 AM
Comments

Well I think the majority of people are good. That when push comes to shove they do help their neighbors, during the ice storm this winter when tons of people in New England were without, heat etc. our neighbors helped, and that's what you could hear is all the people helping their neighbors, my friends neighbor let them heat their home with his generator so they had heat at night, neighbors came out to help cut trees, check on the elderly neighbors to make sure they were okay.
I really have faith in the human spirit despite all the doom and gloom that the networks try to sell us everyday, there are fantastic good stories going on out there that we never hear about.
If I were independently wealthy I'd obviously give more to charities than I currently do and I donate quite a bit. I'd obviously pay off any of my debt, any of my families debt so everyone was comfortable. But I definitely would not be opposed to helping someone.

Posted by: Deirdre at March 18, 2009 7:39 AM

Pipe dream thoughts on what would I do to save the economy...

First I would try to make companies honest, that way our investments are safe and companies getting bailouts (which they wouldn't need) would not be paying big time bonuses.

Then I would start financial education programs in schools to teach kids at an early age about how to handle money.

I wouldn't have any debt because I am wealthy but I would do what I can to help people underwater to get above water through education, support, and assistance.

Posted by: Goodsnake at March 18, 2009 7:52 AM

I think we should all do what we can for the people who are close to us, whether in heart or in proximity. Stick close to your family, participate in your community. When stuff hits close to home, get involved. I may not be able to help with money, but I can help with my hands and head. I can watch someone's kids while they look for a job, I can donate stuff I don't need. I think too many of us think there is nothing we can do to help. Sometimes just offering assistance is enough. It lets the person who is in a tough spot know that someone else cares about what they are going thru.

If I had money I would make sure others can live a life that they feel good about. I would provide housing in a COMMUNITY. I would set up good worthwhile centers for community child care and education. I would give people jobs in which they get paid for the effort they put forth. In short, I if I had money I would give people what they fairly worked for and earned.

Posted by: Ashley K at March 18, 2009 8:01 AM

It's keeping me up at night too. I'm an insomniac, so I should say that it is stressing me out.

It doesn't sound cheesy to me. We could all use help, in one form or another, from time to time.

I'm rather tired right now, so I will have to think about what my magic bullet would be.

Posted by: MariaV at March 18, 2009 8:08 AM

I am being somewhat cynical but I think for the most part people depned on the govt. because it is impersonal. There is no guilt from asking the govt for assistance as there is no real payback requested.

If you helped me clean my house...I would feel, I don't know, shame, guilt and also like i needed to pay you back (which I should pay you back) not with money but to then do a good deed for you. With the Govt...no need to do a good deed back.

I think a lot of people have the attitude that since they pay taxes that they have the right to complain or what have you. It is like being stopped by a cop and telling him you pay his salary with taxes so he should not ticket you.


I think the way it should work is that you have give time to the community. Volunteer for a few hours here and there and then when the cop stops you you get to say...hey here is my "Volunteer card" I just cleaned the local park and served food at the homeless shelter and by doing so I made your job easier. Then the cop would let you go.

If I had the money, I would host wet t shirt contests in every community for volunteers. Because seriously think of the turn out we could get at the soup kitchens.

Posted by: William at March 18, 2009 8:18 AM

We were almost that family. My husband worked hard in his industry for over 10 + years. It didn't matter his experience he was let go when I was 5 months pregnant and had 4 year old twins.
He couldn't find another job. He searched, he begged, he was willing to transfer and nothing.

We came VERY close to losing our cars, our house everything. Truth is, if everyone else wasn't in the same situation, we would have lost it.

We feel we are on the upswing now, although we are deep into a hole that sometimes is too deep to think about. I don't know what to do about the economy, I just know if I am scared as hell so is another mother on the brink of losing everything.

Posted by: Tuesday at March 18, 2009 8:36 AM

I feel the same way...but I was raised by a grandmother who was born in 1905...saw a lot of hell, was not wealthy for sure being an immigrant, had tons of discrimination because that damn Mexican catholic woman had 10 kids...we HAD a neighbhorhood then, usually with family, and people who REALLY cared about all of us, most of them immigrants and would yell at us with accents! Giggle (I was at the VERY tail end of this, more stories than actions) including putting their noses out when we kids did some thing ehem, bad, and telling on us!

These were the times we kept our potato peelings in the freezer and when we had no more meat, we pulled them out and made soup for the rest of the month along with ox tail which used to be CHEAP! Nothing went to waste when I was growing up, absolutely nothing...my grandma would slap me today!

Did you ever see the OLD movie John Doe?
You should rent it! Makes me wish we were still closer to this model than not! Cary Cooper is the lead...in the great depression...seriously rent it.

Posted by: Gypsyfroggie at March 18, 2009 9:49 AM

I know nothing about money or the economy so I'm not going to answer your question. However, I DO belong to a fellowship that takes care of each other. When the surgeon I work for announced he was going to quit, I initially panicked - thinking I'd be unemployed and danged if at LEAST three people didn't say, "Oh well. You can just live with me until you find a new job." THAT'S how it should be.

Posted by: k8 at March 18, 2009 11:08 AM

This post right here (in addition to your deliciously wicked sense of humor) is why I've read this blog for the last six years. You're a good guy, Chris. I don't care what anyone says. ;)

Posted by: LJ at March 18, 2009 11:19 AM

I don't know what the answer is...for sure. But, I do have a question. Why do banks foreclose on someone and then turn around and sell the house for very cheap. Why don't they adjust the mortgage for the original owners?

Posted by: Arwen at March 18, 2009 1:22 PM

awww, that is so sweet of you. I agree, it would be nice to have neighbors like that.

Posted by: La Petite Belle at March 18, 2009 1:30 PM

I think it is that family that we all need to put into our minds every time we hear someone complain about the people who don't deserve to get help with their mortages so they don't go into foreclosure. Sure, there were some people who really tried to scam the system and buy too much house, but there are also lots and lots of families just like that one who are our neighbors.

Posted by: aimee at March 18, 2009 2:23 PM

Buy the foreclosed homes and let the families stay. Less homes available--> less depression of the market and hopefully less houses going into foreclosure.

Posted by: tutugirl1345 at March 18, 2009 3:17 PM

That, exactly that. I like how you think.

Posted by: Jess at March 18, 2009 3:56 PM

Ya want old and crotchety? Here's some: When I was a kid, thats how it was. I knew everyone in my neighborhood. We all were a real community, when someone needed help, we were there.

This may or may not surprise you, but thats what being a follower of Christ is supposed to be about. It is not a religion of hate, although there are groups out there that are.

I would love for Christianity to get back to it's more humble roots. You know, love your neighbor, help those in need. I miss those days, when being a Christian wasn't a bad thing.

That would be a cool idea if you had the capitol to pull it off. There are those who could without hurting themselves, unfortunately I doubt that they would be willing to part with their cash at this time.

There are quite a few homes on our block here that are foreclosures. It has been sad to see it happen and hope that the economy will turn around and banks will make responsible decisions with regards to loans from here on out. Yeah I typed that part about banks with a straight face!

Posted by: Jeff A at March 18, 2009 4:17 PM

Money is no option? I think that forgiving an school debt for any 20-30 somethings would probably get the economy on the right track pretty fast. These are the people that spend, that are having babies, that are buying houses, etc.

I also think that it would work similarly if all 17-18 year olds were encouraged (o.k. highly encourage, through subsidization and free tuition) to spend at least 2 years getting a degree. Get younger adults a beginning continuing education and get them out of the job market for those that can't go back to school.

I think that would be an honest start that would put faith in the next generation and take the onus (or ethical dilemma) away from banks and big business.

Posted by: nora at March 18, 2009 9:26 PM

Money is no option? I think that forgiving an school debt for any 20-30 somethings would probably get the economy on the right track pretty fast. These are the people that spend, that are having babies, that are buying houses, etc.

I also think that it would work similarly if all 17-18 year olds were encouraged (o.k. highly encourage, through subsidization and free tuition) to spend at least 2 years getting a degree. Get younger adults a beginning continuing education and get them out of the job market for those that can't go back to school.

I think that would be an honest start that would put faith in the next generation and take the onus (or ethical dilemma) away from banks and big business.

Posted by: nora at March 18, 2009 9:26 PM

Nothing to do with this post, just saw this and had to send this to you:

http://www.typetees.com/product/623/Haikus_are_easy_but_sometimes_they_don_t

Posted by: alektra at March 18, 2009 10:32 PM

I'd refinance everyone into payments they could afford, and the interest rate would be determined off of their ability to pay. 40 year notes would be accepted. Foreign status (like my Canadian brother-in-law) would not matter. Adjustable rates, interest only, and balloon notes are all not available. FICO score isn't as important as your current situation. And if you get one of these loans and still default, then you're meant to be a renter.

On a more personal note, my closest neighbor friend across the street lost his job. He's been without work for a couple of months and recently landed a new gig, same money, same field. He heard about it through another neighbor of ours, who just happened to stop by one evening while we were all out chatting and mentioned what his employer does. We chose this neighborhood because it was kid-friendly and had a nice feel. It's been even more friendly and neighborly than we could have imagined, and stories like that just make me love it here that much more.

Posted by: Brad at March 19, 2009 9:08 AM

1. Put AIG bonus funds towards people losing their homes.

2. I sorta hope that most people are wanting to be responsible for their lives...and it's good to help people. Unfortunately I have seen and hear too much about people expecting handouts and that just becomes their way of life. Entitlement. I am all for helping the honest souls who just need a lift up and can then go manage on their own. I dunno....maybe I've been in NYC too long. Seen too much of the entitlement lifestyle.

Also we need to stop giving handouts to people who are not legally in this country and start helping our own citizens. And stop outsourcing jobs overseas. Rant over.

Posted by: jessica at March 19, 2009 2:03 PM

I don't know what the answer is either. But I have a lot of good ideas... as does everyone here. I like the way you think Chris.

I have to wonder though... what is wrong with corporate America today if we, the little people, can think of ways to help and make a real difference that would benefit everyone... and they can't.

Posted by: Tammy at March 19, 2009 11:24 PM

I doubt there are many people who would take the time to do that when their house is being foreclosed. That's pretty awesome...it says a lot about them. :)

Posted by: Zandria at March 21, 2009 1:07 PM

Last fall we went through what is called a 'deed in lieu' of foreclosure on a property we owned. Part of the agreement of getting that deed in lieu was that we had to go in and clean it before the bank took it over. Perhaps your neighbors were lucky enough in their misfortune, to be granted a deed in lieu of forclosure and can now pick up and put their lives back together.

Posted by: Paula at March 21, 2009 7:10 PM

Last fall we went through what is called a 'deed in lieu' of foreclosure on a property we owned. Part of the agreement of getting that deed in lieu was that we had to go in and clean it before the bank took it over. Perhaps your neighbors were lucky enough in their misfortune, to be granted a deed in lieu of forclosure and can now pick up and put their lives back together.

Posted by: Paula at March 21, 2009 7:10 PM


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