Kelly Young was stunned when she got a letter in January informing her that her disability payments, those of her daughter, and their Medicare benefits were being cut off. The Social Security Administration said she lied on her application when she failed to disclose she owned a house.
As far as Young knew, she didn’t own anything. Four years earlier, Bank of America informed her it was foreclosing on her tiny yellow ranch-style house in Jacksonville, Florida, after the 45-year-old mother of three fell behind on her payments. When Young got the bank’s letter, she didn’t fight.
“They said foreclosure, so we just up and left,” said Young, sitting in the darkened living room of her rental house in a nightdress that reveals the bandages from recent heart surgery and the tubing from a dialysis port. “I’m not going to sit here and let someone put me out. I’ve never been evicted.”
The problem is, Bank of America never followed through. Now, four years later, Young struggles to pay her bills while across town her house sits empty, strewn with trash and rotting under a leaky roof, collecting fines for code violations and unpaid taxes and fees related to the delinquent mortgage.
Young went five months without any disability payments and was living off the kindness of her landlord. In May, her benefits were restored, but she’s still fighting to get her 16-year-old daughter’s disability payments restarted. The developmentally disabled teen needs medication every day and has been getting by on samples provided by public health clinics.
Young’s case is particularly harsh, but not unique.
Jacksonville’s poor neighborhoods are dotted with abandoned houses stuck in foreclosure limbo. The so-called zombie properties are often uninhabitable because they’ve fallen into disrepair, and owners are unwilling to invest in fixing them up because, with the mortgage unpaid, the bank can always come back and foreclose again.
By cherry-picking which foreclosures they complete and which they ignore, banks are saddling individual borrowers with a permanent, inescapable debt while helping to create slums in already struggling communities. The vacant homes often attract drug dealers and squatters and bring down the value of surrounding properties.