For our Making Sen$e story about Florida foreclosures, we met a man named David who had to hand over the keys to his house for cash. Paul Solman catches up with him on his third day living out of his truck.
In 2007, a man we’re calling simply David bought a modest house on a quiet street in Fort Myers, Florida, for $139,000. He intended to live there with his parents and his brother. Eight years later, now 39, he, his brother, his ailing mother and two dogs live in a Ford Explorer in a truck stop parking lot unsure of where to go next.
“I had a good job. I had thousands of dollars in my bank account. I didn’t have to worry about nothin’,” David told Making Sen$e last week. “People think that ‘oh, it’s a joke,’ it’s [homelessness is] not gonna happen to ’em. … It did happen to me. I never thought it would.”
Like millions of Americans, David took out a mortgage to buy his house. But later that year, his father died unexpectedly. The family used money from low-income jobs and the mother’s widow’s pension to pay the bills. Tragedy struck again in mid-2010 when his mother suffered a heart attack that’s left her dependent on more than a thousand dollars in prescription drugs each month and needing frequent care. David stopped working to look after her. Unable to make his house payments, he got a loan modification from mortgage-servicing company Litton in January 2011 that reduced the interest rate he paid. Several months later, he told us, a company called Green Tree took over the mortgage and started raising his payments. He drained his bank account and 401(k), sold his 2003 Monte Carlo and picked up odd jobs around the neighborhood.
Last week, Making Sen$e watched David hand over the keys to his house for a $1,500 check in a “Cash for Keys” transaction. He was told that if he returned, he’d be trespassing. His belongings curbside, the house, which is now worth a third of what he bought it for, belongs to the bank. He was told he could take the refrigerator. But it barely works, and besides, where would it fit in the Explorer?
The $1,500 is supposed to give the newly displaced a fresh start, but for David, his new start is a truck stop parking lot where the best he can hope for is some shade for his dogs and access to the bathroom. His mother slept upright in the car the first night, but David was concerned about possible swelling and blood clots, so he put her up in a motel starting the second night. At $120 a night during tourist season, though, there’s only so far $1,500 can stretch. And there’s no telling how long David and his brother will be able to park where they are. His brother has a criminal conviction for inappropriately touching a minor, and although he maintains he’s innocent and was framed by disgruntled family members, local police treat him as a sex offender.
In part because of that criminal record, David can’t rent a place for his family to stay. In the six hours after he drove away from his old house, he made 32 phone calls asking for help — to the Salvation Army, other realty companies and rent-to-own operations. “Nobody,” he said. “Either there was a problem with my brother, or they didn’t want to take the dogs.”
David’s gotten little help from his extended family in Florida. “My so-called brothers, sisters that I have down here, whatever, they don’t care. They’re not worried. They got their own families,” he said. So what family he does have — his dogs — he’s not giving up on, even if that means not having a place to live. “Only way I give my dogs up is either I die first, or they die. That’s it.”
On David’s third day living out of his car, Paul Solman caught up with him in a shady parking lot, where he was waiting to pick up his brother from his job. David tells his story in the video above.
On Friday, David sent this update, via text message, to our producer. We’ve condensed it slightly:
Still the same no luck and it’s supposed to pour today and all weekend. Looks like I’m gonna get wet again just my luck. The truck really leaks it sucks and has no air-conditioning. The heat is a killer right now on the dogs and me and my brother. So hot and humid.
Watch Paul Solman’s full report on the ongoing Florida foreclosure crisis below.
Lee Koromvokis, Paul Solman and Eric O’Connor contributed to this report.