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A Personal Look at Foreclosures, By the Sheriff Who Won’t Do Them

At Newsweek, Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County in Chicago offers an unusually personal look at the process of throwing someone out of their home in a foreclosure eviction, something he still often refuses to do. Dart stopped doing evictions after discovering too many instances of owners with no notification by the courts or renters with no idea an eviction was coming. That problem was supposed to be addressed by a ban on evicting renters, enacted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in January. The problem, Dart says, is that the ban isn’t always followed as of yet. Also, not everyone has a Fannie or Freddie loan.

Dart’s point is that most people don’t ever see or understand how painful evictions can be. Here’s his moving description:

Until you’re physically out there, you can’t really get the magnitude of what you’re actually up to. It sounds like it’s an antiseptic process, and it’s anything but that. In the majority of the homes I was going into, there were always little kids around—I mean, really young kids, and we’re taking them and putting them out on the street. A lot of them were seniors, and a lot of them had issues with dementia. Once again—we’re taking them out to the street … Most of these neighborhoods are not good neighborhoods. Once [their belongings are] out on the street, we leave. While they’re off looking for transportation, the few things they own are being stolen.

I tried to work arrangements with landlords and mortgage holders to get me more information as far as who was in there, so I could try to get social services to them and somewhat mitigate this. And I had no luck.

Dart also said the whole situation was made worse because banks sometimes provided incorrect information on evictions, once leading his deputies to a vacant lot, where the house in question had burned down two years earlier. Or deputies find the wrong occupants inside. The amount of mistakes became so great Dart grew convinced the entire system was flawed. And he was tired of seeing the effect it had on the innocent. From Dart:

One in particular hit all the buttons. We went in, and standing in front of me is a young man, probably early 30s; he’s holding two 6-month-olds in his hands, in their diapers, both of them have colds; he’s got a 5-year-old, and an 11-year-old with his wife. And we’re there to throw him out.

He pulls out a lease he’d signed, which was all valid and notarized. The lease was entered into after the foreclosure had occurred—the case had gone through the courts, but this landlord was such a rotten person he kept renting the place out. If not for the steps we’d put in place, this guy was out in the street with these little kids.

Dart’s descriptions remind me of something housing expert Alan Mallach told TWI last week – that on Wall Street and in Washington, the mortgage crisis is not about people’s lives and neighborhoods. It’s just about the paper. And Dart reminds us that even well-intentioned policies like the ban on evicting renters take time to translate into reality. Same with loan restructurings. In the meantime, foreclosures grind on. For another, personal look at evictions, here’s what TWI found in December, when a ban on holiday foreclosures supposedly was in place.

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