Video: The evictors and their victims

By Chris Hansen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/19/2008 5:52:56 PM ET 2008-12-19T22:52:56
TRANSCRIPT

As families across the country hang the final Christmas lights on their houses this week, millions of others are left without a home. Their American dream has come to an end: A knock at the door, an officer with a warrant. A heartbreaking scene repeating itself across the country at an alarming rate.

Chris Hansen: How you gonna get another place to live?

Wife: I have no idea. 

Officer Al Fernandez: Today we're workin' overtime and yesterday we worked overtime.  Yesterday we did 20 in one day.

Twenty evictions. A typical day for officer Al Fernandez of Florida’s Miami-Dade police department. Twenty families forced to leave their homes. Some couldn't pay their rent; for others it's their mortgage.

Officer Al Fernandez: No one's immune.  We-- we-- we evict people from a $60,000 apartment to a $3 million home in-- in-- Gables by the sea.  I mean, it's everywhere.

In September, a record one in ten mortgage holders was behind in payments or in foreclosure. And renters have been hit as well. In some cities, the number of renters being evicted has doubled in the last two years. And with layoffs on the rise, it's likely to get worse.

While that sounds frightening, meeting the people behind the numbers is heartbreaking.

PoreyNassiri: I try my hardest.  Yes, honey.  I'm sorry.  (crying)

Hannah: It's okay.

PoreyNassiri: I'm so sorry, Hannah.  (crying)

For the last several months, we've traveled to some of the worst hit cities in America, and rode along with officers as they carried out court orders to evict people from their homes.

Our first stop: Miami, Florida where officers will carry out an estimated 14-thousand evictions this year.

Fifty-one year old Tony Fernandez, an asphalt business owner, says as the economy slumped so did his business, making it impossible for him to pay his mortgage.

JoseAntonioFernandez: The saddest day of my life.  I have a son that's-- grew up here.  And he doesn't know, you know, what's going on.  To him, this is home and he doesn't have a home.

Every city seems to have its own rules. In Miami, during an eviction, workers remove all the contents of the house and put them outside.

Officer Al Fernandez: You have to put it inside the fence line.

Male: Okay.

Officer Al Fernandez: Okay? Allow 24 hours- to get it and then get rid of it.

Male: No problemo.

The resident has 24 hours to come and get the left-overs of his lost life- that is, if his possessions are still there.

A young mother, Maureen Alvarez, answers the door. Her husband is not home- he's at his job working for the city of Coral Gables. Officer Fernandez calls him, explaining he's outside his house about to evict his family.

JoseAntonioFernandez: I spoke to the owner who's-- the young lady's husband.  I spoke to him on the phone and-- Video: Locked out

ChrisHansen: And what did he say?

JoseAntonioFernandez: I asked him if he was aware, why we were here, he says yes, I told him to bring a truck, 'cause the bank representatives are-- are here to take possession.

ChrisHansen: It's gotta be a little sad for you.

JoseAntonioFernandez: It is, of course.  We all have families.  And when you have kids and-- I mean, it's a fully furnished house.  It's like if I went to your house right now.

ChrisHansen: Sign of the times?

Junior Alverez: Yes sir. Unfortunate.

The family apparently misunderstood the eviction notice...thinking they had more time before the police showed up.

Her husband, Junior Alvarez, quickly leaves work and races back to his house.

Alvarez says initially his mortgage payments were $2000 a month, then they jumped to almost $4000...an amount he could no longer afford.

ChrisHansen: So, your mortgage almost doubled.

Junior Alverez: Yeah.

Now they are homeless.

Junior Alverez: I have two kids.

ChrisHansen: How old are your kids?

Junior Alverez: My-- my daughter's-- one year or something. (starts to cry)

ChrisHansen: One year.

Junior Alverez: My son is-- two months.

Two months old. Alvarez and his wife Maureen pack up their family, put all their belongings in storage and go looking for a place to stay. 

Junior Alverez: All you can think of the first night is where you're gonna spend the night.  Because when you have a place to go, well, you don't think that much about it.  But if you don't have a place to go, all you can think about is, "Where I'm gonna spend the night, what is gonna-- what's gonna happen?"

MaureenAlverez: We had to end up staying in the first place we found.  And it wasn't a very nice place.  So, it was a little bit scary.

We caught up with Junior and his family two days later. They're staying with a family friend, sleeping on the floor.

These tragic scenes are not only playing out in Miami. When we come back, twenty-five hundred miles to the west, in Las Vegas, Dateline is there as families in deep financial trouble are put out on the street.

ChrisHansen: How do you explain this to your daughter?

PoriaNassiry: How can I explain it? That I'm a loser. That's the only thing that I could say is I'm a loser.

MaureenAlverez: We had the police officers knocking on the door like if we were hiding some sort of criminal inside.  It was just the way in which things happened made it really humiliating.

We left the desperate conditions of Miami only to find more misery in Las Vegas. Like Miami, this city suffers from a housing boom that went bust. 

ChrisHansen: So you don't know where you're gonna go when you leave here?

BlanchardCarter: To be honest with you, no, I don't.  I don't know what I'm gonna do.

In Las Vegas, it's the constable- who goes by the nickname Bobby G -whose office carries out evictions.

ChrisHansen: How many of these does your office do in a year?

Bobby G: In a year?  We do close to 50,000 eviction--

ChrisHansen: 50,000 eviction papers a year?  And these run the gamut from somebody who hasn't paid the rent to somebody who's-- had a bank foreclose on their mortgage.

Bobby G: Exactly.

And he says the numbers are way up... About five hundred more a month. 

Deputies who carry out the evictions never know what to expect...  Sometimes the families have already moved out. When the people are still there, the eviction can be heart-wrenching.

Policeofficer: Yeah,  a tenant who-- is saying that they're paying rent religiously and they shouldn't be kicked out.

Leigh Nassiry pleads with the deputies... Insisting that their rent is paid in full.

LeighNassiry: We don't owe anything, period. Video: Evicted Miami resident leaves home

But a little while later when her husband Poria, a carpet cleaner and part-time valet, arrives we hear a different story.

Apparently Poria hadn't told his wife the whole story.  They were behind on their rent.

PoreyNassiri: January, I was at work, and I got hit by a car.  So, I didn't work for seven months.

ChrisHansen: Right.

PoreyNassiri: And I just went back to work right now. 

ChrisHansen: How far behind were you? 

PoreyNassiri: Three months.

ChrisHansen: Three?

PoreyNassiri: Yes.

The toughest moment comes when Nassiri has to explain what's happening to his eleven-year-old daughter, Hannah.

PoreyNassiri: I try my hardest.  Yes, honey.  I'm sorry.  (crying)

Hannah: It's okay.

PoreyNassiri: I'm so sorry, Hannah.  (crying)

ChrisHansen: How do you explain this to your daughter?

PoreyNassiri: How can I explain it?  That I'm a loser?  That-- that's the only thing I could say is I'm a loser. 

ChrisHansen: Well, I'm sure she doesn't see you as a loser.  She sees you-- she sees you as a guy who's working two jobs to support, you know, her and her mother.

PoreyNassiri: Yeah, but-- I'm a-- I'm a loser.  How c-- I mean, come on.  

The deputies proceed with the eviction. And the Nassirys learn the hard way---if you're evicted in Las Vegas, you have a few minutes to gather up your most important belongings before the locksmith changes the locks.

They now have 30 days to arrange to come back and get their things.

PoreyNassiri: Life comes at you so fast that it's crazy.  You would never think that you could be homeless. 

The Nassiry's neighbor is kind enough to temporarily take them in.

PoreyNassiri I-- I feel like I am wearing out my welcome.  I really do.  It's-- it's been a week.

They go to court to try and get a stay of eviction- they're hoping to be allowed back in their house until they find another place to live.  But judge Nancy Austerly explains to them they are too late.

Judge Nancy Austerly: "Stay of eviction" means you wouldn't go back in and-- and stay there, right?

PoriaNassiry: Until we could get a new place, and get everything out, yes.

Judge Nancy Austerly: Okay.  The problem with that is-- you didn't respond at all, and there's no answer--

PoriaNassiry: To what, Your Honor?  I--

Judge Nancy Austerly: To the, to the notice of-- of the eviction.

PoriaNassiry: --I never got paperwork--

Judge Nancy Austerly: Okay.  Well, here's the problem.  They followed the statute.

The landlord and judge work out a deal to allow the Nassirys three days to move their belongings out of the house, under supervision.  Leigh is not happy with the decision.

Judge Nancy Austerly: Your husband thinks it could be done.  I think you should try to get it done.

PoriaNassiry: Yo-- Your Honor, that's fine.

PoriaNassiry: Okay.  That's all today. 

Our final stop is Detroit, Michigan...A city hit with plant shutdowns, joblessness and a staggering eviction rate. 

Rachel: We have nowhere to go.

EleanorFoster: We don't have no place to go--

Rachel: No money.

EleanorFoster: --and I'm going to a shelter, hopefully I can find one that'll take me, her and my granddaughter.

In Detroit, court bailiffs carry out evictions.  For fear of retaliation, the officers have asked not to be identified.  They point out - it's a dangerous job.

Here, when no one answers the door, the bailiff and his crew bash it open. Everything in the house is put in a Dumpster. Owners have 48 hours to collect belongings accumulated over a lifetime before the Dumpster is taken away.

Officers will have executed 10,000 evictions in the city of Detroit by the end of this year...and the number is growing.  We met a retired school principal who is trying everything not to be part of that statistic.

ChrisHansen: How long have you lived in your home?

Linda Johnson: Twenty-nine years.

ChrisHansen: Twenty-nine years?  You love it?

Linda Johnson: Yeah.

ChrisHansen: Big part of your life?

Linda Johnson: Very big part.

When her daughter was accepted into an Ivy League college, she and her husband decided to refinance their house.

Linda Johnson: We didn't wanna have her miss that.

ChrisHansen: And if your child could get accepted in an ivy league college like any other parent, you're gonna do absolutely everything you can to get her in.  And she went.  Proudly and successfully.

Linda Johnson: And graduated.

ChrisHansen: And graduated.  And-- and what--

Linda Johnson: Take a minute.

ChrisHansen: Su-- absolutely, take all the time you want.

Linda Johnson: I said I wasn't gonna cry.

The former educator says when she took out the new mortgage she was never told it had an adjustable rate.  It started at 8.9 percent.

ChrisHansen: What kind of a mortgage did you think you were getting?

Linda Johnson: I thought I was getting a-- fixed mortgage.

ChrisHansen: For how many years?

Linda Johnson: For 30 years.

ChrisHansen: When you signed that mortgage, did you go through the documents in detail?

Linda Johnson: No--

ChrisHansen: How come you didn't, though?

Video: Tough job: Evicting homes

Linda Johnson: Busy person, trusting person, American person.  I-- before this all happened to me, I could not even envision Americans doing what's been done to me to other Americans.  And that sounds really naïve.  But-- you can tell by my hair I'm old school. 

Her mortgage later jumped to nearly 12 percent. 

Linda Johnson: I've made the payments on time.  And--

ChrisHansen: At what cost to your retirement plan?

Linda Johnson: At-- I've taken out everything I can take without a severe penalty.  And so, I--

ChrisHansen: And how much longer can you hang on?

Linda Johnson: I can't.  I'm tapped.

ChrisHansen: You're done?

Linda Johnson: I'm done. 

So she's turned to the Wayne County mortgage foreclosure prevention program...her last hope.

Linda Johnson: I was like one of their first customers the first week of the first (chuckle)-- when it was first set up.  So, they've been trying to work things out with my lender.  And--

ChrisHansen: Do you think you'll be able to work it out?

Linda Johnson: I don't know.  I-- I mean, I either have to work it out or pack.

The program provides homeowners with a counselor who cuts through red tape speaking directly to lenders. Bob Ficano, the Wayne County executive, says the program is working.

ChrisHansen: Will this program save people's homes?

BobFicano: It definitely will save people's homes. And it will also, if you have to leave, give you dignity on the way you exit, and hopefully give you an opportunity to land someplace else.

Turns out, the program worked for the retired principal.  She was able to renegotiate her mortgage to six and a half percent making her monthly payments affordable... The mortgage however will adjust in five years.

Others in the program may not be as lucky... Like homeowner Catina Willis. So far her mortgage company won't budge.

Chris Hansen: What kind of a let-down was that for you to realize that you weren't gonna be able to get that better rate?

CatinaWillis: It was a-- very hard to take.  (crying) I got one kid in high school.  One's waiting on me to pick her up right now.  And I don't have any good news to tell them.

But her counselor hasn't given up yet- so as Catina and her family decorate their home for what may be their final Christmas in this house that they have loved and possibly will lose.

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