Happy New Year! Kind of.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Froze in the Middle
The Mayan calendar began a new cycle on December 21. It’s not exactly off to a wonderful start for a lot of people.
The rural poor (and not-so poor) are huddling together, cutting firewood, and pooling their other resources to stay relatively warm this winter. The urban poor tend to live in apartment buildings, which are easier to heat, and they have an established public assistance infrastructure to help them out. And suburbia?
Ouch. You’ve seen the stories, and I hope you haven’t lived them. The lucky ones still have jobs that cover their heat and transportation costs (if little else). The people in the Foreclosure Moratorium program (FMA) get a break on the mortgages, but they’re still on the hook for food and heat. Many suburbanites aren’t aware of other assistance programs, or how to apply if they do… or prefer to avoid them (pride, ideology, etc.). So even when the house payment isn’t an issue, some are deciding it isn’t worth the hassle. They mail their keys to the bank and move in with relatives (whether rural or not).
Suburbia’s thinning out, in more ways than one. Abandoned houses don’t last too long now: first the furniture disappears up their neighbors’ chimneys, then wood trim turns into fuel and carpet & padding goes on walls (extra insulation), then interior walls turn into firewood, then upstairs flooring, walls, the roof… and of course, the wiring gets stripped for the copper. After a week or so, there isn’t much left but pieces of sheetrock, vinyl siding, the heat pump, and other large appliances (or the remnants, after the motors get stripped for copper too). Houses that don’t get abandoned sometimes catch fire when people aren’t smart about using their fireplaces, or try using the oven as a firebox. So between strippers and fires, empty lots are appearing fairly quickly. I’ll bet some forward-thinkers are already clearing them up for gardens.
Naturally, this isn’t doing the financial “industry” any good. CWM was offering mortgagees in the FMA program some assistance with heating bills to keep people from giving up. That’s basically good business… an intact house is worth something; a lot with a pile of debris is worth less than the lot itself (since it has to be cleared). Other companies are trying a sort of rapid-response operation, with housesitters lined up and ready to rush to an abandoned house — but that’s a race they usually lose, because the neighbors know when people move out and have a head start on the mortgage companies, equal to the time it takes to send in the keys. Most housesitters arrive to find the house already stripped of furniture and often carpeting; if they’re lucky, the wiring is still intact. Losing a house like that is a double-whammy to the mortgage holders — the Feds let them not report FMA properties as write-offs, but they still aren’t allowed to hide destroyed assets or housesitter costs. They’re all dreading the April reporting. Some regional companies, in Florida and California, have already folded — and there’s no telling who owns their paper now. But against a backdrop of people freezing to death or dying in fires, figuring out who owns some worthless property doesn’t seem to be a priority.
Of course, the yap radio mouths blame their usual suspects for just about all of what’s happening — Shotgun Sam probably got himself a case of emphysema the other day, breathing all the dust coming off the global warming-denial mantle that he tried on. Something along the lines of, “Where’s the global warming gone? We sure could use a little bit of that right now, couldn’t we?” The spazz out there is just incredible. (“spazz” is an old term I defined during the Y2K days; it indicates the ability to cling to a belief after it has been disproved)
Closer to home, FAR Manor is getting through winter in reasonable shape so far. We had some trouble with wood-poachers for a little while, was the worst thing. Fortunately, someone close by asked for permission to get firewood off our place — I told him to only take deadfall and chase off the poachers, and that’s working out pretty well. Daughter Dearest has her teaching job, and she and another teacher are housesitting in a place within walking distance of the school. The county agreed to waive school taxes for the property, so that’s all working out (again, so far). The school buses pick up passengers as well as kids now, collecting fares from the non-students, which helps some with fuel costs. But the Feds had to step up and make sure that rural school districts had enough diesel to run the bus services. Now that they’re letting oil companies pay up to half of their taxes in fuel, that seems to be working out.
The scary thing is that there’s no master plan in effect — people are just making it up as they go. Most of us somehow manage to make it work, but some don’t… sometimes by not thinking things through, other times by just bad luck. Climate change notwithstanding, a mild winter and an early spring will help a lot of people stay alive.