Monday, May 10, 2010
David Streitfeld had a fascinating and sobering piece in the New York Times this week, chronicling a day in the life of Joseph Laubinger, in essence a foreclosure 'fixer' who represents lenders in their last interactions with former homeowners still in actual possession of their homes before the sheriff arrives. Laubinger's business has a simple goal but a complex task: getting foreclosed owners out as seamlessly as possible. He gets a fee for getting the possessors out, and then gets to earn a commission by selling the house. He comes face to face with the pain caused by the foreclosure crisis, and lest we forget, there is real, gut-wrenching human pain.
It's a somber job, and Laubinger is anything but cavalier; he is described in the article as "a soft touch," and regularly gives people in trouble extensions so they can find somewhere else to go rather than being rendered homeless. On the day Streitfeld followed him, Laubinger encountered the Lukaszs, a young Polish couple in default on two loans secured by a modest home that they've been unable to sell for what they owe. What did them in, like many others, was that Mrs. Lukasz became chronically and painfully ill; Mr. Lukasz's salary from working night shift at an envelope factory could cover the loan payments, or the pharmacy bills, but not both. Enter Mr. Laubinger. Mr. Lukasz agreed to accept $1500 to move out without a sheriff's eviction, but later changed his mind, deciding to stay until the last possible moment. Another family of six encountered that day end up sheltered by their church.
Laubinger, to his credit, seems to treat these people with compassion. The Lukasz's situation left him in tears. In some strange and convoluted way, Mr. Laubinger's role and demeanor remind me of the great Bruno Ganz's angel of death in Wim Wender's breathtaking Wings of Desire, unable to prevent death but able to usher the victims out with some comfort. On the other hand, foreclosure isn't death, and angels don't have a profit motive.
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