News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Thousands in Las Vegas have yet to see a so-called economic recovery. One in 4 homeowners in Las Vegas area are underwater, the third highest rate nationally behind Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. As neighborhoods emptied due to foreclosures, violent crime moved in. A father who takes his children to a Las Vegas park now goes armed-NY Times, 8/2/16

8/2/16, "Underwater in the Las Vegas Desert, Years After the Housing Crash," NY Times, Jack Healy, Las Vegas

"More than eight years after rotten loans and plunging home values made Las Vegas the center of the housing crisis, thousands of people have yet to recover."

"Michael Hutchings bet it all when he built his 3,300-square-foot dream home on a strip of rock-strewn desert gazing west toward the Las Vegas Strip. He had made a fortune building custom homes as Vegas boomed higher and higher, and for his own, he chose red Spanish tiles, wrought iron and silky white plaster. A guesthouse? Sure. Swimming pool? Of course.

That was 2006. You know what happened next. Today, more than eight years after the housing crash, Mr. Hutchings, 49, owes about $800,000 on a property that has not recovered its value from the bubble days. As neighbors lost their homes to foreclosure, he started to hear gunshots and see stray dogs roaming the streets here around Sunrise Mountain. A drug dealer moved in down the block

Over the protests of his wife, Terrisa, Mr. Hutchings now stashes an unloaded shotgun in the bedroom closet and a handgun in the kitchen cabinets, tucked beside the glassware.

He could walk away from his mortgage and lose the $580,000 he has paid, or he can keep pouring his savings into the same hole. It is a mess with no good choices, he said, just like the presidential election. He will vote Republican, but Clinton or Trump — either way, it feels like a losing wager, he said.

“The whole system’s kind of broke,” he said. “We’re trying to reinvent ourselves, trying to run businesses, trying to pretend like it’s 2003 again. And it’s not.”...

He still, warily, supports Mr. Trump. “It sort of puts a little bit of acid in the stomach,” he said. “I just don’t know what this world’s going to be like in 90 days. I have never been more confused about my country.”

Las Vegas is a glittering promise built on a simple truth: The house always wins. But years after rotten loans and plunging home values made Las Vegas the center of the housing crisis, thousands of people have yet to recover from the cataclysm that tipped the United States economy into a recession.

Even with new resorts springing up on the Strip, home values recovering and record numbers of visitors pouring back to this American playground, thousands of people in golf-course mansions, gated condominiums and stucco starter homes are still stuck in 2008, battling with their banks, owing more than their homes are worth, trying to negotiate a sale to avoid foreclosure. To visit this underwater America is to take a tour of too-easy money, bad choices and worse luck, and of the way the economic toll of the Great Recession still haunts much of America.

They blame themselves, but their scorn for banks and bailouts runs as wide and hot as the desert. The crash tarnished their faith in that core American belief that buying a house was a foolproof path to security and prosperity.

Vegas house in foreclosure
Housing sales and prices are rebounding across Las Vegas, but the market was in such a deep pit that families who bought at the peak or borrowed against their homes say they may never see any return on their $240,000 starter home. Some who walked away are bouncing from rental to rental, negotiating bankruptcies and trying to fix their credit. And they say the tepid job market Nevada’s unemployment rate is 6.4 percent, up slightly in the most recent government survey— is an added weight.

To them, the economic recovery was a fickle storm that brought rain to some parched farms while skipping theirs. The frenzied market for million-dollar studio apartments in Manhattan and seven-figure bungalows in Los Angeles might as well be another planet.

A ‘Last Stand’

A Marine veteran, Mr. Hutchings is now a block captain for the neighborhood association near Sunrise Mountain, 10 miles east of the Strip. Like many residents of the scattered American cities where violent crime is rising, he got so concerned that he installed iron gates and 12 security cameras to watch over his 1-year-old son, Maxim, and 3-year-old daughter, Natalia, as they play. When he takes them to the park, he goes armed.....

One in four homeowners in the Las Vegas area owes more to the bank than his or her home is worth, according to RealtyTrac

That is the third-highest rate in the nation, behind Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. And though prices are recovering, they are still below the frenzy of 2005, when people lined up for open houses and bought homes for nothing down.

Mr. Hutchings skimmed through the neighborhood’s hodgepodge of upper-middle-class wealth and suburban decay....One minute, he seemed ready to give up. The next, he was determined to keep up the fight with his bank.

“This is my last stand,” he said. “I’m like that old farmer who won’t get off his property.”

As he drove, he raved about “Plutocrats,” a book by Chrystia Freeland that critiques the rise of the superrich. He also reflected on the two times he had met Mr. Trump, at a Florida nightclub and a real estate event. “Just a super cool guy,” he said. “Nothing like he is on TV.”... 

Selling to Avoid Foreclosure...

Drive north to a quiet suburban street across from an elementary-school parking lot where Mark and Anna Lissor taught their son, and now their grandson, to ride a bike. The Lissors are hitting retirement age, but they owe about $500,000 on an overdue home-equity loan they used to remodel their house. They are hoping to negotiate a short sale for less than the value of their loan. It would spare them foreclosure, at least.

“I was so stupid,” Ms. Lissor said. “How could I be so na├»ve? I just didn’t realize what was going to happen. Our balance was going up every month, every month. And then everything plummeted. And we were in the hole.”

The Lissors are Republicans: He wears a “One Nation Under God” T-shirt, and their car has a National Rifle Association sticker. Still, Ms. Lissor gives President Obama credit for creating programs that sought to keep people in their homes. But she said the bailouts had ended up favoring banks over typical homeowners. She sees Mrs. Clinton as a liar and a cog in a rigged system.

As Shawn, their grandson, tumbled across the living room couch in a Captain America muscle outfit, Mr. Lissor walked into his study and pulled up the real estate listings for the neighborhood. A galaxy of blue dots filled the computer screen, each representing a house at some stage of the foreclosure process....

‘They Brush Us Off’

Head to the northern fringe of town, where waves of new homes run abruptly into an eternity of desert. The Jansons live here, in a peach-colored house they bought for about $290,000 at the height of the bubble. It was their dream home, with enough space for their growing and grown children and grandchildren, for the Christmases when they set up two trees and cooked for 20 relatives. They are trying desperately to hold on to it.

They are all Democrats, and staunch Clinton supporters....Last Christmas, her husband, Kevin Janson, 56, lost his $20-an-hour job as a security guard at MGM Grand and took a replacement gig at a downtown casino for $12 an hour. Ms. Janson was getting fewer and fewer hours at the jewelry counter at Kohl’s. Then, in June, she was hospitalized with a severe potassium deficiency, and said she had lost her job the day she returned to work.

The family started to strain to make $2,000 monthly payments on a loan that, even at the best of times, “was a little bit beyond our means,” Mr. Janson said. As the house’s value sank, they owed more than it might ever be worth. They spent $3,500 and countless hours to modify the loan and reduce the payments to a more manageable $1,500 a month. They have Mr. Janson’s paycheck and his pension as a retired member of the Air Force.

“We can probably do it, but just barely,” Mr. Janson said.

Many of their friends and neighbors sold at a loss or walked away from their homes, but the Jansons decided to stay. When he drives home from work every day at midnight, he skims past signs for sparkling new houses — Harmony Homes! The Preserve! — but the house is all the family has.

“What we have is what we’re sitting in,” Mr. Janson said."...

Image caption: "A burned-out Las Vegas home under foreclosure, now used as an illegal dumping spot. Credit Max Whittaker for The New York Times"

The above article is part of the NY Times "Anxious in America" series "Articles in this series will explore the national mood in this election year."



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