Fallout: From house to homelessness

Fallout: In the real estate boom, one mother took a chance on American dream -- and lost big

In the search for a better life for her children, single mother Daverena White took a chance on a $698,000 home. But circumstances soured from there. Her story is one of an America in the midst of a relentless real estate boom.
By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 2009

The motel room seemed to shrink as days wore on, and their belongings bulged from its one dresser and closet. Papers. Clothes. Hair accessories. Room 267 had become a cramped way station for a family of four, far from what Daverena White had in mind when she decided to buy a house.

Back then, in 2006, before the country's housing bust and mortgage crisis, before the recession hit and jobs fell away, White settled on a four-bedroom colonial along the rolling landscape of Clarksburg, in Washington's outer suburbs. She imagined her three youngest children growing up there. It was the first house that White had ever owned.

But this was where that decision had led: to a bleak winter of foreclosure and homelessness and finally this crowded motel room where White had lost count of how many days she and her children had awakened there, hoping for something better.

Now, on a sunny afternoon this past May, White answered her cellphone. The children had climbed off their school bus 20 minutes earlier, and the motel television flashed with cartoons. Suddenly the sound of her voice filled the room.

"Thank you so much," she said. "Thank you so much!"

She hung up. "Yes!" she yelled. "Yes! Yes!"

Her teenage daughter started to cry.

It was her youngest who pressed her. "Are we moving?" he asked. The 5-year-old was serious, almost urgent. "I want to go now."

As the recession shows signs of easing and the economy begins to recover, the families most affected by it, such as Daverena White's, are starting to recover, too.

But recovering is not the same as recovered. As White has come to understand, it can take years -- whether it's an economy, a bank or a single mother of four who wanted a house. Now she knows that. But as all of this began in the heady days of the mortgage boom, she didn't. She only knew that there seemed to be possibilities, even to those with little means such as herself, which is how a woman who had never paid more than $700 a month in rent and who had relied in recent years on Section 8 housing vouchers suddenly owned a house.

A four-bedroom house.

With 3 1/2 bathrooms. And walk-in closets, black granite countertops and a fireplace.

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