Samuel Wilson is a small business owner. He owns a community laundromat in a Chicago suburb and, coupled with his neighborhood hardware store, demonstrates the perfect marriage of the American dream and hard work.
But he’s starting to slip on his mortgage payments. He had taken ill last month and now can’t keep up with the taxes on his house — a problem he hasn’t faced since 1969.
Now he’s two months behind and the banks have come knocking, not only on his door but on the doors of multiple houses in his neighborhood. [RELATED: With landmark lawsuit, Barack Obama pushed banks to give subprime loans to Chicago's African-Americans]
He’s watched the banks swing through, first encouraging home buyers to put next-to-nothing down on their new homes, then encouraging them to walk away when they can’t keep up on the payments.
Since the housing bubble burst in the late 2000s, Wilson has watched neighbors vacate their homes. He has seen wooden boards nailed over windows. He’s been there when banks seized properties.
Then come the looters. “They’ll take anything,” Wilson said. Compressors in air conditioning units that sell for scrap metal, stoves and even hot water heaters — whatever they can find to make a quick buck.
Crime in the area has increased significantly as more and more people are struggling to make ends meet, he observed.
According to Neighborhood Scout, an online analysis project of Location Inc., Chicago is safer than only 6 percent of other cities across the nation. Murder rates have surged to more than four times the rates in New York and Los Angeles, making the city more dangerous than Kabul, Afghanistan.
“The riff raff in the neighborhood will loot it [the home] because the guy around it isn’t in it,” he said.
The crime, Wilson said, has only gotten worse, and more residents face unemployment and are trying to get money in any way they can.
“Work began to slow down, and they weren’t able to keep up,” Wilson told TheDC. “So many people are unemployed in one block, maybe 12 people gather, sitting around drinking beer and playing dominoes — and doing drugs too, I imagine.”
In 1995, Wilson joined 185 other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Citibank for discriminating against Chicago residents in loan approvals. Lead counsel for the case, a young Barack Obama, alleged that the bank denied Wilson and the others their loans solely because they were black. [RELATED: Obama's African-American clients got coupons, not cash]
They settled their case, and Citibank began doling out loan approvals.
Wilson had never foreclosed on a home before but filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2001. He’d gone to court before for not paying his taxes. Now the bank is asking him if he wants to walk away from his home.
“The mortgage company claimed you can walk away and sell it for a reduced price,” he said. “A lot of people get behind, and they can’t catch up.”