DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md.—Renee Brooks thought she had found her peace on Wild Rose Court.
Earning a decent salary as a welfare-to-work case manager, she landed a deal on a townhouse in a cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Washington. When she moved in with her young daughter in 2010, she simply felt relieved to be out of the noisy apartment complex down the road.
“You could hear everything, you could smell everything that people did,” says Brooks, 46, recalling her neighbors’ cigarette smoke wafting up into her old apartment. “Here, I don’t hear nobody talking. After nine, ten o’clock, you don’t hear a pin drop.”
Suddenly, in July 2013, Brooks lost her job. Six months later, Congress cut off her unemployment checks. Now she could lose her home, too. “When my unemployment stopped, I stopped paying my mortgage,” she says.
Brooks is now among the millions of unemployed homeowners who risk default, foreclosure, and huge debt loads—even if they manage to find a job again.