It’s been years since Katrina hit New Orleans. The devastation still continues along with the unseemly side of the whole exodus. Folks fled in panic, fear, and tension. They also managed to sow a good bit of their own in the places that they stopped and decided to call home. Crime, violence and vandalism skyrocketed in communities that had populations swelled by “refugees”. It may not be statistically accurate to correlate the rise in badness with the arrival of the refugees, but it sure did and does feel that way to many long time residents of the refugee landing pads. TV and radio ads ran (and still run) urging an accepting attitude and warning against discrimination. Let me tell you a little story about a Katrina refugee family that I knew.
The owner of the house next door walked away from his debt and let it lapse into foreclosure. That’s not such an uncommon occurance. He was speculating on a few real estate ventures and got caught with his pants down. The bank who took the house back put it right up for sale at a discounted price and a middle aged couple bought it, for cash, in the hopes of slapping a coat of paint and turning a small, quick “flip” profit. Well, a lot of folks were doing the same thing and the market was sluggish. So after waiting for months with an empty house, it looked like they were about to get lucky. A “Katrina family” showed up brandishing copies of their shiny government grant money that was supposed to help them start a new life away from New Orleans (I learned about the “grant” later in the story). A contract was signed, the for sale sign taken down and the family moved in in short order. I introduced myself to the new neighbors, glad to see that the house would no longer be vacant. It might as well have stayed that way.
Let’s say that regular homeowner maintenance tasks were out of their skill sets. The house fell into disrepair quite quickly. I noticed that the air conditioner overflow pipes were streaming water and told the neighbor that he needed to have an AC guy look into it before it croaked or caused a lot of interior damage. It croaked. And then we noticed that most of the family was spending the nights in the Ford Explorer in the driveway (alongside a dilapidated, non-runnin, oil leaking, POS baby blue van). The engine was always running. It took awhile for some of us to figure out that they were using the AC in the Ford because there was none in the house. And then the Sheriff’s Deputy showed up and posted an eviction notice. Three days later they were gone. Fast forward about a month.
The couple has contractors out there replacing carpet, painting, fixing the AC, landscaping and more. I strike up a conversation with the guy (I’m a little chatty) to find out the scoop. He tells me that he is getting the house fixed up and will be selling it to his son and new wife. “But I thought the house was owned by the other family?” I was trying to be circumspect regarding the “tenuous” circumstances I had witnessed the other day. His response was “It would have been their house if they had ever bothered to pay for it!” That certainly sparked a conversation. I learned:
- The family were, indeed, Katrina refugees
- The “grant” may have been real, but it was not a mortgage guarantee
- The refugee family never paid anything toward their mortgage, which was held by the couple
- Foreclosure proceedings were delayed by red tape generated by the “refugee” status
- Eviction couldn’t be started until foreclosure was completed (I didn’t understand this point)
- Damage repairs and fix up cost about $16,000 (it was a real mess)
- Back taxes were about $6,000
- Unpaid mortgage payments were in the $10,000 range
- That “grant” money, if it existed, was never spent on its intended purpose
People scream in righteous indignation that the poor Katrina refugees are discriminated against. They are. It appears as though many are developing a solid basis for that antipathy. Is this a rant? Certainly a considered one based on personal experience.