By Lisa Donovan

January 3, 2010

Elizabeth Cabral-Arreola vacillates between resignation and nervous chatter about the accumulation of problems — ill health, bad luck and some regrets — that has put her on the verge of losing her home.

She’s been looking forward to a fresh start — 2011 — almost since the start of 2010 when the bank moved in January to foreclose on her family’s Southwest Side home and take what is left of her and her husband’s middle class existence.

“I’m already at the starting line and waiting to cross over,” the 55-year-old Cabral-Arreola said last week adding a new year symbolizes the hope of a fresh start.

Arreola has lots of company: Year-end projections for 2010 show banks and other lending institutions filed 51,900 new foreclosure suits in Cook County Circuit Court. The clerk’s office won’t have a final tally until mid-January, but a spokeswoman said the number is among the highest on the books.

The projections suggest foreclosures continue a steady climb that began in 2006, when filings in Cook County Circuit Court sat at 18,916 and jumped 70 percent in 2007 to 32,269. In the first half of the decade, foreclosures ranged from 12,000 to 15,000 annually.

It also suggests too, experts say, that the housing crisis hasn’t abated, but rather just spread to new demographics.

“What we’ve seen is a lot of shifts in where the growth is occurring and that’s mostly in the suburbs and among middle income and higher income” groups, said Geoff Smith, senior vice president of the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based non-profit research organization.

Smith said “persistent unemployment” is a common denominator in these cases.

He said people who lose their jobs — and have gone without work for long periods of time — can’t save themselves by selling their homes, because very often the homes are worth less than the mortgage they’re holding on them.

Arreola knows this only too well.

The brick bungalow she and her husband bought for about $80,000 in 1986 is worth about the same now. But they took out a home equity loan about seven years ago, for a new roof and to re-do their kitchen, and now owe about $163,000.

Three years ago, the $1,465-a-month house payments would have been a snap for the couple whose combined income at the time was $100,000.

But in 2009 her employer — the city of Chicago — ordered non-union staffers to take 15 furlough days, something she described as financially crippling.

That same year her husband, who works at a plastics factory, also saw his hours cut back.

Things were so tight, they stopped paying their mortgage. In January 2010 their bank filed for foreclosure in Cook County Circuit Court.

Health problems — her own and other family members — followed, along with a bout of depression. She quit her to job as an administrative assistant with the city’s Aviation Department at Midway Airport.

Their income was cut in half.

“I wish I could have my job back,” Cabral-Arreola said last week. “When you lose everything, you start to lose your mind, and that’s where I was at.”

Today, her son and daughter-in-law along with their two children now live with them because they lost their jobs. Her daughter, a chef, also was laid off and remains home, too.

Because their income is high enough, they don’t qualify for many of the loan modification programs out there.

But she and her husband managed, temporarily, to lower their monthly payments to just over $1,300.

And she’s cashed in a portion of her city pension, she says, to help keep up with the house payments.

“What this all did was it bought us about a year, until we can figure something out,” she said, noting that the foreclosure case is pending.

In Cook County, there is usually a 13-month span between the time a bank files for foreclosure and the homeowner is evicted.

Cabral-Arreola hopes that day doesn’t come, but has to prepare for it.

“If they come after us, then they can take it,” she said. “Then I know there’s something better out there for us.”

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