Adolfo Garcia and his wife, Manuela Acevedo, were working and earning good salaries at local carpet factories, so they decided to realize the American dream and buy a home.
Two years later, their payments started to increase. Two months ago, Mr. Garcia lost his job, leaving them with no means to pay for the house in Dalton, Ga. His wife still works, but because she is three months pregnant, she doesn't know how long she will be able to keep her job.
"You spend the days disturbed, frustrated," said the 33-year-old father of a 4- and 2-year-old. "Losing your job is like losing everything you've got."
Mr. Garcia and Ms. Acevedo are one of many families affected by the foreclosure crisis. An estimated 1.3 million Hispanic families will lose their homes to foreclosure between 2009 and 2012, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.
"Almost 8 million homeowners are behind in their mortgage payments, one out of every four homeowners owes the bank more than their house is worth and households have lost about $7 trillion in wealth since the beginning of the crisis," said Roberto Quercia, director of the Center for Community Capital, in a telephone conference call.
Mr. Garcia and Mrs. Acevedo had to move to an aunt's home, where they rent a couple of rooms. They also are trying to sell their house, which was worth close to $120,000 when they bought it and now is valued at $79,000, Mr. Garcia said.
* Contact your lender first as soon as you get concerned about paying your mortgage.
* Determine your options by speaking to your lender's loss mitigation department.
* Be patient but persistent with your lender because getting a loan modification takes time.
* Call the Homeowner's HOPE hot line at 1-888-995-HOPE. Trained counselors are available 24 hours a day to provide assistance in multiple languages.
* Connect with a local HUD-approved counseling agency for free by calling 1-888-995-HOPE or visiting www.LoanScamAlert.org.
* Beware of loan modification scams. Some companies and individuals are out to take advantage of homeowners seeking loan modifications.
* Avoid anyone who asks for a fee prior to providing any loan modification service, including companies, individuals and even some lawyers.
* Avoid anyone who guarantees to get your loan modified or stop a foreclosure because nobody has the power to make this promise.
* Avoid companies that tell you to stop paying your mortgage and to pay them instead. This is a sure sign of a scam.
* Report loan modification or foreclosure scams at any time by visiting www.LoanScamAlert.org or calling 1-888-995-HOPE (4673).
Source: NeighborWorks America
"I have three months to sell it," he said. "So far it's been a month and nothing."
In 2009, 1,325 properties received a foreclosure notice in the Dalton Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, up 132 percent from the previous year, according to RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist. The total is 2.59 percent of housing units in the metropolitan area, less than the 2.68 percent foreclosure rate in Georgia but above the national average of 2.21 percent, he said.
The number of Hispanic clients seeking foreclosure counseling has increased significantly at the Dalton-Whitfield Community Development Corp., officials have said.
During a four-day period in January, 104 foreclosure notices were served in Whitfield County, out of which almost 40 percent went to an owner with a Hispanic surname, said Dr. Robert Cult, assistant professor of economics at Dalton State College.
Hispanics make up more than 40 percent of the population in Dalton, according to the latest census estimates, but typically have much lower homeownership rates than non-Hispanics, he said.
In Hamilton County, the foreclosure rate was much lower at 1.47 percent in 2009, a decrease of 2.84 percent from 2008, according to RealtyTrac. Less than 4 percent of the population in Hamilton County is Hispanic, according to census estimates.
January data, though, shows the foreclosure activity in the Dalton area might be slowing, Mr. Blomquist said.
"The foreclosure activity in Dalton was down 4 percent from the previous month, still up (12 percent) from a year ago," he said.
Most of the activity is with properties already in foreclosure, not ones that have just entered that process, "which supports the idea that maybe the city is a little further along in working through the foreclosure problem," Mr. Blomquist said.
Despite that data, the subprime lending and housing crises are expected to result in the loss of as much as $98 billion in collective Hispanic household wealth, said Janet Murguía, president and chief executive officer for the National Council of La Raza.
La Raza, the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center for Community Capital last week released "The Foreclosure Generation: The Long-Term Impact of the Housing Crisis on Latino Children and Families," a study that uses 25 interviews with Hispanic families, including some in Dalton, who have been through foreclosure.
From interviews done last year, the study found that, as a result of foreclosures, spousal relationships frequently suffer and public benefits become a lifeline for many.
Mrs. Murguía said residents need assistance to rebound.
"To help the nation recover from the devastation caused by foreclosures, Americans need three things: relief from foreclosures, even if they are out of work; the opportunity for qualified families to purchase newly affordable homes; and stronger consumer protections and accountability standards to prevent future criss," she said.