'Foreclosure mess' worries Rust Belt refugee, mortgage-strapped family


Patricia Polk moved to Las Vegas from Flint, Mich., in 2005 because she didn't want to believe that life sucks and then you die.

The Flint she loved -- where she grew up and retired after 30 years as a teacher and librarian -- no longer existed. Its thriving, blue-collar middle class had largely disappeared.

That happens when your town's largest employer, General Motors, closes plants and sends jobs to foreign countries to hold down costs.

Flint lost half of its 195,000 population. Those left behind lost hope, Polk says. Thousands of homes were boarded up. Crime soared.

"How people feel in Flint is understandable and so sad," says Polk, who tutors schoolchildren. "But it's so depressing to live where people are so bitter about life."

Las Vegas' strong economy and the jobs it produces give people hope, Polk says, and that's part of the reason Southern Nevada has grown so dramatically during recent decades.

She wants the entire country to enjoy the same economic opportunities and thinks Sen. Barack Obama has the best plan to do that.

"I'm caucusing and voting for Obama, because he seems to instill hope in Americans," Polk says. "If his plans work for keeping jobs in the United States, you won't have so many people trying to live in Las Vegas."

As impressive as job growth is in Las Vegas, though, people are losing their homes at a rapid rate. Nevada recently reported one foreclosure filing for every 152 households, the highest rate in the nation for the 11th straight month.

It reminds Polk of the economic decline in Flint, although she knows Southern Nevada's gaming industry isn't going anywhere.

"It doesn't seem right to live in a city where your main industry is setting record profits and so many people are losing homes," she says.

"I hate to see so many vacant homes. I know those people who lost those homes are hurting."

Butch and Eva-Marie Bugarin of Henderson sure are.

In less than 90 days, the Bugarin family, including Eva-Marie's bedridden mother, Gloria Aarseth, will be on the street.

"It's bad enough for my husband and two kids, but I take care of my mother who has multiple sclerosis," says the cashier/hostess at Sunset Station. "She's not supposed to have stress. I think this could kill her."

Like many others in recent years, the Bugarins -- Butch Bugarin is a carpenter -- bought their $330,000 home with an adjustable-rate, no money down, interest-only mortgage. Over three years the monthly payments have risen from $1,500 to $2,500 to $3,500 a month. They no longer can afford them.

"The lenders said we'd be able to refinance, but now no one will," she says. "Nobody ever told me I had an interest-only loan."

Steve Hawks of ReMax Platinum has tried unsuccessfully to help the Bugarins negotiate with people at their bank.

"They won't budge," he says.

Hawks thinks the only way Las Vegas will emerge from "this foreclosure mess" is to let the "free market work."

"Over-regulation will just make things worse. That's why I'm caucusing for (Mitt) Romney. He's a businessman, a capitalist," he says.

But Eva-Marie Bugarin says she's pushing for Hillary Clinton: "She's a mother, and maybe she'll find a better way to help families keep their homes."

 

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