Foreclosure hammers York County people who lost jobs in rotten economy

adys@heraldonline.comSeptember 29, 2012 

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The pictures of her life were stacked against a wall Friday afternoon.

Pictures of her husband who died a decade ago, a son who died just last week. The funeral bill remains out there for that, too.

Other stuff was boxed up and ready to move out.

Pearlie Mae Whitlock, 66, talked on the phone with a faceless someone somewhere, the voice coming from a debt collection agency. She got off the phone and “hoped for a miracle.”

Because at 11 a.m. Monday, Whitlock’s home will be auctioned off after foreclosure.

“I had a good job at Leiner when I bought this house, but they closed,” Whitlock said.

Leiner Health Products shut down in 2007 amid a federal mail fraud investigation, putting Whitlock and more than 500 others out of work.

“I had no job; I got sick,” she said. “And now they are gonna sell my house to some stranger.”

Whitlock is not alone in York County. At Monday’s sale, at least 65 houses – 65 dreams – will be sold. Last month, 106 homes were sold to the highest bidder, the highest number in recent memory for a single month.

Foreclosure sales are back up, way up, after the state Supreme Court and lenders put the brakes on foreclosures and dropped sales in mid-2011 to just a handful after the recession crippled homeowners.

Judge Jack Kimball, the master-in-equity for York County, handles all foreclosures in the county.

The effect of the Supreme Court’s requiring lenders to investigate the possibility of foreclosure intervention and lenders’ going over books far more carefully after scandals involving loans that had no real signature, , he said, is coming to an end.

Those foreclosures that have been hanging out there for a year or more are now orders for sale.

“Those cases that hadn’t been heard are now being heard,” Kimball said Friday.

There is not a thing that Kimball can do about it. His job as judge is to handle the foreclosure legal proceedings, no matter what the circumstances.

‘Not bitter, but sad’

On a street off Rawlinson Road in Rock Hill, in a nice subdivision, a house will go to auction Monday.

A dentist and his wife, a nurse, used to live there, neighbors say. The dentist was afflicted with multiple sclerosis, and the family’s money was afflicted because of it.

The house was supposed to be their retirement. It turned out to be their doom.

“I helped her carry her husband out to the car – he was about 70 pounds then – so they could go to the bankruptcy,” the neighbor across the street said. “It was the worst thing anybody ever saw.”

Starr Albert once lived in a house on Tysons Forest Drive in Rock Hill. She worked a sales and customer service job at Bowater until August 2009, when the terms “corporate mergers” and “downsizing” meant her job was no more.

Albert was in her 50s, had lived in the house for years, and after just over a year, even with loan modifications, she lost the house.

Monday, Judge Jack Kimball will have to auction off her house, too.

“I had a great paying job; I worked hard, then it was gone,” Albert said Friday. “It took me a year to find another job. And then it wasn’t nearly what I was making. I couldn’t make my payments. I lost my home.”

Some politicians talk about the economy as if it is charts and graphs. They’ve never met Starr Albert, who is not a chart but a face and a person.

About six weeks ago, Albert went back to her old house and stood outside and looked at it. Inside were the memories of children raised.

What was left of her heart broke.

“I’m not bitter, but I am sad,” Albert said. “Jesus Christ did not have a house, but God has a place for me.”

That place is not her home with the flowerboxes. It is a rented place for this lady in her 50s who was a homeowner with a good job until the economy was wrecked and the people who owned homes paid the price.

Karen Griffin, 59, has always worked. She and her husband have lived in their Rock Hill home for 14 years.

Her husband is now disabled after a car crash. She helps care for a 15-year-old grandson with muscular dystrophy. She has fought cancer herself, six surgeries.

Her church tried to help Griffin keep her home, to no avail.

On Monday, she said, “my house will be sold at that auction in York. At 59, I have to try and start all over again.”

‘My piece of America’

Back on the other side of Rock Hill, Pearlie Mae Whitlock waits in the home she bought for $59,000 when she could make a monthly payment of $565. Even loan modifications weren’t enough for Whitlock to stay current with her mortgage, even as she went to work in a nursing home.

Whitlock worked first at the J.P. Stevens Industrial Mill in Rock Hill, starting when she had to quit school to work and help her family.

“I was a weaver,” she said.

The mill closed. The people who owned it wanted to pay employees in foreign countries making pennies a day, rather than paying people such as Whitlock a decent wage.

Then she worked at the old Cone Mill in Pineville, N.C., just across the state line. That plant closed and the jobs went away.

Then Whitlock worked at Leiner, which made vitamins and medications.

She qualified for a mortgage and bought a house.

“It was the first house I ever owned, this house,” Whitlock said. “I was so proud. My little piece of America.”

The Leiner plant closed in 2007, Whitlock has worked part-time jobs and fought illness and age and the bank and debt collectors.

Whitlock has lost all battles except the battle for hope.

“I have in this house a place to set and a place to sleep and a table to eat from, and that is about it,” Whitlock said. “But it is mine. I worked in my life.”

It is hers until 11 a.m. Monday, when somebody will bid at auction in a courtroom. Whitlock will pack the stuff of a lifetime of work and a marshal will come and lock the door.

One of Whitlock’s grandsons was at the house Friday with his mother. They live in Pineville.

“You can come live with us, Grandma,” called out the grandson.

“Looks like I will have to,” said Pearlie Mae Whitlock.

She then closed the door of her home, a home she will own another few hours, and resumed her prayers for a miracle.

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Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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