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COLUMN

Happytown: The Home Defenders League tackles foreclosure in east Orlando and Tom Perriello tackles Mitt Romney's math

We're all poor now!

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A


Inequality now! Seriously, it's gotten to the point that licking your finger to test the direction of the sociopolitical wind is liable to reward you with one less appendage and a pretty nasty infection. Blame the inclement political weather on the Super PAC ad buys polluting the periphery of our psyches, if you will, but don't let it distract you from the fact that there's real trouble brewing out there for real people.

Stick your head out of your window for a minute (but don't lose it!) and just beyond the white picket fences of anesthetized social climbing at the city's core, living, breathing people – not just the ones playing the part in political ads – are falling apart. Blame Obama, blame Romney, blame your state legislature or your municipal overlords, but the fact remains: Something must be done for the real people now. Right?

Well, at least on one of the more distressing fronts, it appears that something is about to be. The Orlando Sentinel reported on Thursday that Florida had risen once again – for the first time since 2005 – in the ranks to top all other states in foreclosures (one in every 117 houses is being foreclosed upon here, a 14-percent increase over last year), bucking the national trend of a 13-percent improvement. It was a fact on the tip of everybody's tongue at the inaugural Home Defenders League event held at the Englewood Community Center on the evening of Oct. 11, where a roomful of presumed homeowners of varying ethnicities gathered to voice their complaints to a panel of political hopefuls.

Take, for example, homeowner Stephanie Rose. In her speech to the crowd of aggrieved homeowners, she detailed a familiar nightmare: Her house, which she purchased in 1989 and upon which she still owes $50,000, fell into the cat's cradle of foreclosure bureaucracy – and all of the assistance programs that implies – when she fell on hard times. "These programs are written in black and white," she said, somewhat meekly. "Life is not that way."

The federal Hardest Hit Fund has $1 billion earmarked for Florida (an additional $300 million from a national settlement is currently being disputed by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state legislature). Hardest Hit funds are meant to be used to assist homeowners in renegotiating their mortgages, paying them off or transitioning out of their homes without significant penalties. Rose had been participating in another program that accepted her money while still piling months of default upon her record. She finally applied for Hardest Hit dollars, only to be told that she didn't qualify because she was 23 months behind on her mortgage, due in part to her involvement in the other program. She called the whole experience "demoralizing."

Laura Johns, who is leading the grassroots charge of the Home Defenders League, concurs. "There are definitely a lot of scam artists out there," she says. "One family at the meeting had fallen victim three times. They sent the money to the scammers instead of the bank. It's definitely targeted."

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