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Extreme Help Needed: SAVE THIS HOUSE!

December 13, 2008

The economic horror story of 2008 involves home foreclosures, ballooning health care costs, the difficulties of getting credit, and the deeply troubled Detroit auto industry. The Vardon family in Oak Park, Michigan is the poster child for all four of these calamities.

            Four years ago, it was a different story. The Detroit Pistons had won the Basketball Championship, the “Big 3” were profitable, and home ownership was on the rise. And when, in the fall of 2004, 20 million television viewers watched the Vardon family step out of a limousine, many of us wept with joy and relief. Like the Vardons, we were stunned how “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” renovated their small Oak Park home to help these struggling deaf parents care for their blind, autistic son. Like so many other “Extreme Makeover” episodes, we were left with a feel-good Cinderella ending.

            Four and a half years later, no one feels good. The Vardon house is extremely close to foreclosure and help is desperately needed. “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my house now,” Judy Vardon signed through an interpreter. (“Oak Park family who received ‘Extreme Makeover’ faces foreclosure,” Michael P. McConnell, Journal Register News Service, Dec. 8, 2008,) “This house really belongs to Lance; this is his environment. He can’t speak out for himself and I hope we can save this house.”

            Three years ago, in the height of the adjustable mortgage craze, the Vardons refinanced with an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM). This wasn’t to get a better deal but to allow them to pay for Lance’s escalating medical bills. Judy said, “We didn’t have bad spending habits. My husband got laid off for a time (at the Chrysler Stamping Plant) and insurance wouldn’t cover Lance’s autism therapy and some other things like his vision and special dental work.” The debt for Lance’s therapy alone was $20,000 then.

            In four years, the mortgage was sold three times and the interest rate went up each time and now is 11.9%. In four years, the house payments have gone from $1200 to $1600 to $2300 per month. Their property taxes went from $1874 to $2852 per year. Their medical insurance doesn’t cover treatment for autism. And the Vardons are terrified that Larry will lose his job as a metal finisher for Chrysler.

            When the Vardons tried to refinance for a fixed loan, they didn’t qualify because of their credit scores. So this house, made just for the Vardons, which includes a computer that reads Braille, security strobe lights and cameras for Lance’s safety, a textured piano and toys, is close to being closed for good, or at least until someone else pays a ridiculously low price from the bank to take it over.

            The irony is brutally painful. But Judy is realistic as she signs, “Millions of others are experiencing the same thing.” She is right. Just this year, 390 homes in the small town of Oak Park are in foreclosure. In Michigan’s wealthiest county, Oakland County, foreclosures have ballooned from 2117 in 2004 to 9400 in 2008, a 440% increase. And this is before the latest rounds of layoffs and firings from the Detroit automakers, banks, and so many other companies in Michigan and around the country.

            The signs of trouble in this holiday season are everywhere but there is no reason to give up. The Vardons are a symbol of hope amidst the desperation. “We’re a close family who loves each other,” Judy said. “I feel that I was given this life to show others that you can face these challenges.”

            The Detroit area community has rallied to help the Vardons in the face of its worst economic winter since the Great Depression. WKQI-FM (99.5) raised $5000 and Seth Cohen of Mortgage Access Centers LLC in Birmingham is working on getting the Vardons a lower fixed-rate. He confidently said, “They’re not going to go into foreclosure.” (“Extreme Supporters,” Gina Damron, Detroit Free Press, Dec. 11, 2008)

Donations to keep the Vardons in their home and to help with some of their medical costs have started to arrive from all over the Detroit community, following the WKQI story and the articles in the Free Press and the Oakland Press.

            Judy Vardon put her hands out in sign language to say that, “Foreclosure could happen to anyone at anytime.” Yes it can, but I want to tell her: not this time and not her house. Not if we all pitch in to help in this time of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year. Instead of saying to her and her family, “Move This Bus!” we can speak to her without words. We can donate to the Friends of the Vardon Family Fund at P.O. Box 721084, Berkley, MI 48071-0084.

            We can tell her loud and clear with our checks and our hearts that we are here to “SAVE THIS HOUSE!”


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