Kathy James, 41, a married social worker from outside St. Louis, said her sister, Janice Francis, came to her for financial help after both she and her husband lost their jobs over the course of 18 months in 2008 and 2009. James said Francis, 47, and her husband saw their $125,000 annual household income slashed by 75 percent and were close to losing their home.
James offered to loan them six months of mortgage payments and other living costs while the couple got back on their feet — even though she had been saving the money to return to school for her master’s degree. The couple hasn’t been able to start repaying her yet, but James said she won’t charge her sister interest.
“It’s what you do as family, really, so I didn’t really think too much of it,” James said in an interview.
She said Francis was like a surrogate parent to her after their mother died when they were children. So, she said, she sees any help she offers her big sister and her family as part of the responsibility the sisters have to take care of each other, which they have been doing for nearly 40 years.
“My family is my community,” she said. “Of course I have to think about my family’s future and how we need to ensure we are okay . . . If I was faced with the decision 10 times again, I’d make the same decision again 10 times over.”
A financial setback
The fall came fast for Jane Ladson.
As poor investment decisions and unchecked spending ate away at her settlement money, Ladson ended up refinancing her mortgage and stripping the equity in her home. These types of shoddy loans helped drive the financial crisis, and several studies have found that black homeowners in particular were targeted. Ladson said she owes $308,000 on the house — more than she originally paid for it.
At first, paying the new mortgage wasn’t a problem. But in April, she slipped on the stairs of her home and tore the rotator cuff in her left shoulder. Ladson could barely lift the laundry basket, much less handle the heavy manual labor at Amtrak. Soon, like millions of Americans who found themselves laid off or unable to work in recent years, Jane felt the life she had spent the past two decades building start to slip from her fingers.
Among the first things to go was the Lincoln Navigator she bought during brighter times. Then came the foreclosure notices. By the fall, Ladson was standing in line for food baskets from local charities. She never told her friends or family how bad things got.
But some things remained inviolate, like day care for Kaila. Ladson was never late on a payment. She even bought Christmas presents for Kaila months in advance, in case her budget got tight at the end of the year.