The foreclosure crisis hits home for kids, says one Dobbins freshman who's seen it close up.
Ward says there's no way to track how many of the Philadelphia School District's students are experiencing poor performance or missing school because of a foreclosure crisis at home. She says schools in North Philadelphia, like Tiffany's, may experience a greater percentage of students affected by foreclosure, thanks to a higher rate of home ownership in that area. But there's still no reliable way to judge its effect.
"It would be different if home ownership were the norm and suddenly it's not," says Ward. "The major topics that come up are more like, 'My mother's on drugs. My father's in jail.' This isn't something a school nurse or counselor would be watching out for. They're still trying to meet very, very basic needs."
Philadelphia hasn't been hit as hard as, say, Stockton, Calif., where one in every 27 households was foreclosed in 2007. That's the top spot on a list of foreclosure rates for 100 metro areas compiled by RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed properties. Philadelphia was 67th on that list, well below "scare cities" like Cleveland, Detroit and Oakland, Calif.
But in 2003 Pennsylvania had the fourth-highest rate of foreclosure among subprime loans in the country, and subprime loans were approved in growing numbers over the next three years. In 2006, 37 percent of all mortgage loans made in Pennsylvania were subprime, up from 9.9 percent in 2002.
According to the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, there are 10 Philadelphia neighborhoods where a full 50 percent of all mortgage loans made in 2005 were subprime. The Rodriguez family's old neighborhood, Hunting Park, is one, along with Kingsessing, West Oak Lane and Southwest.
As far as Tiffany knows, none of her school friends is going through foreclosure. Then again, she's never brought it up to friends, teachers or the school nurse, so she can't say for sure. "It just felt awkward to talk about it, so I didn't," she says. "I don't like to tell my business at school."
At her appearance in truancy court April 9, Tiffany was ordered to receive home schooling. Her school nurse had written a note for the judge explaining that environmental irritants in the air at Dobbins had worsened her asthma, causing Tiffany's absence. Dobbins is unaware of the financial crisis at home; Maritza hasn't informed anyone there of the situation.
Tiffany affirmed the nurse's version of events to the judge, but says the real reason behind her asthma attacks was the fear of losing the house. "All of the attacks happened when I was at home," she says, "while I was thinking about the house." And the first one occurred soon after she learned about the foreclosure in December, though she's been attending Dobbins since September.
A 2006 study published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences confirms a link between stress at home and asthma in children. "In children and adolescents with asthma, the quality of home life and family relationships are important determinants of health and well-being," it reported.
The school district later denied Tiffany a home-school instructor, explaining that asthma isn't on its list of conditions that would necessitate home schooling. Maritza is now trying to enroll her in summer school. Tiffany knows she may have to repeat ninth grade in the fall, and that hurts her pride. "I've never repeated a grade in my life," she says. "I don't think it's fair. It's not like I wasn't going to school on purpose."
In the meantime, she's lost a year of life to the fear of foreclosure. "I miss doing geometry equations so bad, it's like physical," she says.
Tiffany and her mom went to her school together at the end of April to return her textbooks. It was her first time back in six weeks. "I saw all my old friends and my teachers, and it really hurt. They were all like, 'We miss you. When are you coming back?' And I had to be like, 'I can't come back right now.'"
The week of Tiffany's Prednisone-related emergency visit and her date in truancy court, Maritza was sure they were going to lose the house. "It was like one thing after another after another. I just thought, 'This is it.'"
But on April 21 a package from Washington Mutual arrived at the house. Inside was a document that every foreclosed homeowner dreams of seeing--a loan modification agreement. Washington Mutual had agreed to convert Maritza's loan from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed loan at 5 percent until 2033. The foreclosure was averted.
Maritza now owes $64,871, which is $8,000 more than she originally purchased the house for in 2004. The difference comes largely from Washington Mutual's fees. But Maritza doesn't care. "I'm not losing my house. I'm mad 'cause they didn't just let me pay the money I owed and skip all of this stress. But I'm not losing my house."
Tiffany knew nothing about the loan-modification agreement when asked about it a few days later. She knew the house was out of danger, but she was clueless about the details. "After I got home from the hospital the last time, I decided I really don't want to know anything about the house anymore," she says.
"I guess I'm trying to be a kid again, on purpose. I don't want to get worked up about it. Just leave it in God's hands, and in my mom's hands. I believe in her."
Since then, Tiffany says, she hasn't felt any of the symptoms that triggered her attacks. In the last couple weeks she's been getting out of the house too. "I've been going to the movies and to the Franklin Mills Mall with my girlfriends. They're real glad to see me out again. The other night they came over and we were in my room dancing to Spanish music, salsa and merengue, for exercise. It just felt good to get up and move."
Geek Invasion 2013