Homeless ex-mortgage broker Susan Schneider shows housing bust hit agents hard

They once might have met at a networking event or through their home-buyer clients. Instead, a real estate agent and a mortgage broker first crossed paths several weeks ago at a Falls Church day shelter for the homeless.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 9:15 PM

Before the real estate bust, Rob Paxton and Susan Schneider might have met at a networking event or through their home-buyer clients. Instead, they first crossed paths at a day shelter for the homeless in Falls Church.

Schneider, once a mortgage broker with plenty of disposable income, arrived one cold winter morning with her possessions in tow, looking for a hot meal.

In the kitchen, Paxton stirred a bubbling pot on the stove. He once pulled in more than $200,000 a year in Northern Virginia, but he had taken the part-time job as the shelter's director when his commissions dwindled to almost nothing.

Paxton, 55, noticed Schneider right away. Wearing a knit cap and a slightly dazed expression, hers was one of the few female faces in a sea of mostly Latino men awaiting the noon meal. He said hello, and soon they'd swapped stories.

"We have a lot of common ground," Paxton says. "Same business: trying to get people into homes."

Now it is Schneider who needs a home. And over the past six weeks, Paxton has tried to help her - shepherding her to different shelters to find an open bed, giving her food and calmly taking her calls when her perilous situation frays her emotions past the breaking point.

Although Schneider, 43, is grateful for the help, their alliance is shaky at times. She doesn't hide her bitterness that the man trying to help her - a colleague, really - still has his charming gray-and-white colonial in Fairfax Station, while she lost it all.

"Don't get me wrong - Rob is a nice guy," she says. "But you really have to live it to know what it's like."

One recent afternoon, a crowd of more than 100 gathers for lunch at Safe Haven at First Christian Church of Falls Church. Some play chess, others grab a much-needed nap on mattresses nearby.

The church has operated the center for more than a decade with the help of other congregations and a $30,000 county grant from the Falls Church Community Services Council.

They are serving Cajun red beans and rice, and Paxton sits down with Schneider to eat. Schneider, who is health-conscious, eschews rice in favor of salad.

"How are the beans?" he asks her.

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