Suffering in Silence Over Foreclosure

Many homeowners in Perrywood, a community in Prince George's County with sprawling 5,000 square-foot homes, are looking for ways to cope with the mortgage crisis.
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 16, 2008

The lawns on Bar Geese Court are neatly manicured, in keeping with the homeowners association rules that the grass be tidy. The spacious homes with brick fronts, glistening Palladian windows and bumped-out family rooms sit stately on quiet cul-de-sacs and winding streets.

The Perrywood subdivision in Upper Marlboro has long been synonymous with the pride and promise of Prince George's County, the nation's wealthiest majority African-American jurisdiction.

Lately, though, this suburban idyll has been afflicted by the same economic forces that have plagued less prosperous communities.

Two of eight homeowners on Bar Geese are in foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, which documents housing trends. In the past two years, 49 owners in the 1,100-home subdivision have either received notices threatening foreclosure, gone through auction proceedings or had their homes repossessed. Fourteen of those actions occurred in the past four months.

With foreclosures nationwide at a record high in the fourth quarter of 2007, almost 3 percent of homes in predominantly black Perrywood were in foreclosure last year, a figure that is almost double the Prince George's rate and more than three times the state's rate.

Perrywood's story is remarkable, not just for its cluster of defaults or the relative affluence of its residents. It also reflects a troubling national trend: African American homeowners and other minorities are more likely than non-Hispanic white borrowers to be saddled with the subprime loans and adjustable-rate mortgages that put them at greater risk of losing their homes. Black women were five times more likely than white men to receive subprime loans in 2006, a report by the Urban League says.

But the Perrywood story is one of resilience. Owners in default are not walking away or neglecting their properties, as is increasingly happening in California and Florida. Few Perrywood residents even know their neighbors are in financial distress.

"Don't let the green grass and pretty houses fool you," Kimberly Mitchell, who is facing foreclosure, told her young son as they drove through their neighborhood. "America puts a pretty face on it."

Falling Behind Each Month

When Mitchell, 38, first saw the townhouse on Whistling Duck Drive, she knew she had found her next home.

The three-story house with a brick front and entry set off by white columns offered plenty of space and was close to a good school. Mitchell, a single mother, bought the house eight years ago for $200,000 and took out a fixed-rate mortgage with a 7 percent interest rate. It was her first house, and, as a young woman earning $90,000 a year at a job in sales, she was proud of it.

"It took us over a year, every time we turned the doorknob, to stop crying," she said.

Longing for a chance to start her own business and spend more time with her son, Mitchell left her corporate job in 2002 and started a day-care center in her home. The day-care business and finances were fine, she said, until she decided to refinance her home in 2005 and tap its equity to consolidate bills. Her loan officer steered her to an 8 percent adjustable-rate mortgage, assuring her that she could refinance later and return to a fixed-rate interest loan.

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