Mortgaged into HomelessnessJune 7, 2019
Baltimore member’s victimization by banking predators fuels her activism.
Johns Hopkins floor tech Simone Hicks lost her home to predatory lenders.
The Maryland/DC Division of 1199 recently threw a special housewarming party for Johns Hopkins floor tech Simone Hicks, who this spring moved into a new place after losing her family home to predatory lending.
Making ends meet has never been easy for Hicks, but after her mother passed away in 1998 and she inherited her uncle’s house, she at least felt secure in her housing situation. But that all changed in 2006 when she was convinced by a representative of her local bank to take a loan she could not afford.
“I thought the man in the bank had my best interests at heart, but he didn’t,” she explained. “He said I should take out a second mortgage, but when I wasn’t getting paid on time, I started to fall behind on the payments.”
“I thought the man at the bank had my best interests at heart, but he didn’t.”
Like millions of other Americans, Hicks was convinced by a bank representative to borrow far more against her home than she could realistically pay back. These “predatory lending” practices were among the main drivers of the 2008 financial crisis. She ended up facing foreclosure on the house which had been in her family since 1956.
The whole episode led to a downward spiral in her life. She was hospitalized in 2011 after suffering a nervous breakdown. When she came out of the hospital, Hicks recovered enough to get a job at Johns Hopkins in 2012, but her housing troubles were far from over.
She began renting a room from an unscrupulous landlord whose brother was stealing her rent money. Hicks was evicted and with no alternative and no savings, moved into a shelter. It would be another two years before she was able to earn enough to save for a deposit on a rented apartment.
The fact that she was able to bargain a wage increase alongside her union sisters and brothers, which brought her pay to $14 an hour at Johns Hopkins, also helped.
The experience motivated her activism in Maryland’s Fight for $15 campaign, which recently saw a $15 minimum wage signed into law. When the changes come into effect, they’ll give Hicks another small bump in her earnings and help millions of Maryland workers who like her are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
“Being active in the union has given me a lot of confidence,” said Hicks. “I used to be kind of a wallflower and it has gotten me out of my shell.
“I’m about to go to a demonstration to save a local hospital in DC that they want to close. If they shut it down people will have to drive all the way across town if their child has an asthma attack or they are having a heart attack.
“I don’t like the way low-income people are being treated these days. I’m definitely on the side of the underdog.”