Carmen and Ricardo Ramirez had been living the American Dream of homeownership in Washington Heights when the recession interrupted it.
As recounted by The Associated Press in a recent story marking a decade since the housing crash, the couple had been managing the payments for the $299,000 adjustable-rate mortgage on their one-bedroom condominium in Upper Manhattan.
But the downturn and emergency expenses put their homeownership at grave risk in 2010.
That year, they had to shutter their steakhouse, a source of income. The next year, Ricardo fell, suffering a traumatic brain injury; Carmen suffered an injury to her leg and back in 2012. Their finances were further destabilized when funeral costs for her parents caused the couple to miss mortgage payments, “triggering fees for late payments that led to foreclosure,” the AP reported.
“Have you ever heard the saying, when it rains, it pours?” Carmen, 61, told the AP. “Well, it was one after the other with us.”
The couple was facing eviction from their condo when the New York City Consumer Affairs Department referred them to the Center for NYC Neighborhoods’ Housing Mobility program, which helps homeowners who can no longer afford to stay in their homes move to new housing. Since 2013, with support from the Mizuho USA Foundation, the program has helped more than 300 homeowners. The program combines one-on-one housing counseling, assistance in securing alternative housing, financial advice, relocation grants, and links homeowners to trusted realtors. Staff work closely with mortgage lenders to ensure that homeowners who are no longer able to retain their homes are released of further financial obligations.
“We are working with clients who face enormous challenges at the crossroads of the foreclosure crisis and New York City’s housing affordability crisis,” says Joseph Sant, Director of Homeowner Services at the Center. “Our goal is to help these families avoid homelessness, find affordable housing, and emerge with financial support as they close out a very difficult chapter in their lives.”
For Carmen and Ricardo Ramirez, that chapter in their life found a resolution in the Bronx.
Working with the Human Resource Administration’s Adult Protective Services, the Center’s Housing Mobility program staff was able to help the couple secure alternative housing at Bronxwood Assisted Living Residence just before an eviction order was executed by the Sheriff. The facility helped the couple to apply for an increase of their Social Security Income, so they could pay for all of their housing, food and care expenses.
The Housing Mobility Program also provided a one-time relocation grant of $500, and secured a $900 grant from Jarvie Commonweal Emergency Fund to help the couple as they worked to stabilize their finances.
But giving up their home did come at a cost: They lost the home equity they had built over the years.
“We got nothing back — except a tax bill,” Carmen told the AP.
That, as the AP reported, turns out to be the case for a “disproportionate number of minorities” who lost their homes in the aftermath of the housing crisis, and could have far-reaching consequences for wealth generation and racial divisions for generations.
PHOTO: In this Friday, June 17, 2016, photo, Carmen Ramirez, and her husband, Ricardo Ramirez, embrace in their room at the Bronxwood Home for the Aged, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)