St. Louis, MO – Families facing the prospect of losing their homes to foreclosure have to come up with various strategies to fight back.
Diane Dix, 54, is confined to a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis. She and her husband, Jim, live in their comfortable, middle-class, brick house near Cottleville in St. Charles County. Instead of enjoying their senior years together, they find themselves struggling to stay in their home.
Jim, who's 65 and retired, takes care of Diane round the clock. Diane, a woman with an open, pleasant face -- and disposition to match -- wants to be as independent as possible. That's why they're determined to stay in their home of 12 years, which Jim helped design. The doorways and the bathroom and other areas are spacious enough to accommodate her wheelchair. There's very little furniture, which lets her get around easily.
"There is not a place in this house that I can't get to .which I love because I feel so confined and I love the fact that I have access to my own entire house," Diane said.
Jim and Diane are six months behind on their mortgage payments of $2,000 a month. Their 30-year-old son, Tony, who's single, helps to pay the bills. He's a project manager for a construction firm. He's moved back in with his parents, who are surviving on Social Security.
"I mean it's your family. You take care of them. You do what you have to do when you have to do it," Tony Dixon said. "They've always taken care of me when I needed something, and I'm gonna do the same for them."
The Dixes have tried to work out something with their mortgage company but, like so many facing foreclosure, Jim Dix said they are frustrated by not being able to reach the same person twice when they call.
"We finally said, I'm not gonna call no more. I'm gonna stay in the house til they kick us out.'"
For some time, Jim and Diane depended on relatives to help them make their mortgage payments. Then the plunging stock market and diminished assets killed that option late last year.
Jim could look for a job, but, he says, "If I had to go to work, I'd have to pay someone twice what I could make to take care of her."
Ironically, it might be better for Diane to find a job.
"It's easier for me to go back than for him to go back because if I'm working he can come during the day and help me."
For all they're going through and all the uncertainty they face, Diane and Jim try to be optimistic. But Jim seems to be taking the stress harder than his wife. One way they are coping is to turn to a church where they are comfortable. "I feel like, OK, this was not a wonderful thing that's happened to me but at least God blessed me with good people around me and you know that he's given me so many blessings that I probably would have never seen if I hadn't ended up in this wheelchair," Diane said.
Not all families are able to pull together like the Dixes. Mary Fehner, a counseling supervisor with Catholic Charities, has seen many families under stress during these foreclosures. She says the challenges usually magnify a family's approach to life.
"If there is a family dynamic of finger-pointing and blame, the financial difficulties in general are going to tend to pull a family apart."
From her experience advising homeowners, Fehner knows that families react in many ways to their financial problems. Some hide their difficulties from their kids, which Fehner says sets a poor example. Others learn that when they bring their financial issues out into the open, the kids may respond positively - and with maturity.
"Parents can find just enormous support and great insight from children. We've had households where the families did bring children into the discussion and the kids talked about, 'Well, I don't need this.'"
As for Diane and Jim Dix, the future's uncertain. They are working with a local counseling service and hoping for a break from their mortgage company so they can stay in the home that suits them so well.