The remnants of financial disaster linger. Many neighbors have no credit cards. Repossessed family cars have not been replaced. Vacation destinations remain for most the stuff of advertisements in newspapers from which coupons continue to be clipped.
But hanging on has been replaced, in part, by holding steady.
The teacher who got a pink slip last spring has been hired by a new school, and the guy on the corner who had struggled for months with the bank over his mortgage finally got a loan modification. The lawn of an empty house, littered with broken bikes and weeds over the summer, has been made pristine once more by its new owners.
“Things are pretty much better around here,” said Eladio Soto, a landscaper, who is among the unemployed fathers who has found work again. “I am thinking about a little minivan. That’s my life goal right now.”
Beginning last January, The New York Times made regular visits to Beth Court, about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, to chronicle how the foreclosure crisis had reshaped a middle-class neighborhood. Four of the eight houses went through foreclosure, and the others barely escaped the same fate. Beth Court was a microcosm of a nation in deep recession, a block of neighbors whose bad choices — often with the complicity of lending agencies — came crashing into a global economic downturn.
Now, a year later, California’s unemployment rate continues to grow, its housing market remains depressed and the state’s fiscal situation is dire. But the economic and policy shifts that are slowly changing parts of the country are also making a mark here.
Mr. Winkler, a factory worker, was hired at the end of September by Kimberly-Clark at the company’s mill in Fullerton, about 50 miles from here. He had gone more than year without a job.
The commute is long, and so are the hours. When he works the overnight shift, he can go days without seeing his two daughters, who had become accustomed to Mr. Winkler’s shuttling them to and from school and taking charge in times of trouble at home.
When Eva, the 12-year-old, was doing poorly in school, Mr. Winkler literally followed her from class to class for a week. She did not care for it. Good thing for both of them she is on the honor roll now, he said.
“I’m not going to complain,” Mr. Winkler said the other day at his dining room table. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of hours, but it’s more interesting than my old job because I stay so busy. I have insurance for the kids. I’m happy. I’m thankful. And in four months, I’ll be getting a raise.”
His next-door neighbor, Mr. Soto, has managed to steady his home life after being forced to sell his house to make ends meet. He has reduced his monthly housing costs by about $900 by renting back from the new owner. He misses the large truck, repossessed by his lender, that had ferried his family of seven.
“We don’t go places as a family anymore,” Mr. Soto said. “The other day my daughter’s band was playing in Pomona, so my wife had to stay with some kids here. I am a little sad about that.”
In recent years, nearly every homeowner on Beth Court took thousands of dollars of equity out of their homes as values skyrocketed; properties that cost $120,000 in 1997 were worth more than $350,000 at the height of the market.
The balloons have since floated back to earth, and the way houses are paid for has, too. Of the four houses on Beth Court that were foreclosed on between October 2008 and August 2009, two are now owned by families that got loans through the federal Housing Finance Agency program that allows borrowers to buy homes with lower down payments than conventional loans.