How The Effects of the 2008 Housing Crisis Can Still Be Seen Today

The 2008 housing crisis was an event that expelled people from the homes they have been familiar with throughout their entire lives, the jobs that allow them to provide for themselves or a family, and stripped several individuals of their hard-earned savings. Not only did the crisis result in great amounts of financial stress, but also took an emotional toll on many. Although this event may have come as a surprise to most, it was not completely unanticipated. According to the book, The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, a group of investors recognized the faults of major Wall Street banks when they realized that the subprime mortgage-backed collateralized debt obligations known as CDOs being sold for much more than they were worth were essentially worthless. These CDOs were viewed as an opportunity by banks to make a profit off individuals with low credit-scores and no other options. The group realized that as soon as the current housing prices stopped rising, these CDOs would be detrimental to the economy. The book states, “To Charlie and Ben and Jamie it seemed perfectly clear that Wall Street was propping up the price of these CDOs so that they might either dump losses on unsuspecting customers or make a last few billion dollars from a corrupt market. In either case, they were squeezing and selling the juice from oranges that were undeniably rotten. By late March 2007, ‘We were pretty sure one of two things was true,’ said Charlie. ‘Either the game was totally rigged, or we had gone totally fucking crazy. The fraud was so obvious that it seemed to us it had implications for democracy. We actually got scared’”. (Lewis 165-166). This clearly shows how apparent the fraud was and that there were people anticipating the fall of the housing and stock market.  It was their greed that influenced them to turn their findings into a profit. By purchasing credit default swaps, these investors anticipated that once the housing market inevitably crashed, their credit default swaps could be sold for much more than they originally paid.

            Although the crisis is largely centered around the economic effects that occurred, the emotional outcomes of the crisis reached many. Because several people were handed mortgages to purchase homes they could not realistically afford, they were forcefully expelled from their homes after the crash of the stock and housing market, and foreclosures had reached an all-time high. This left people finding themselves suddenly without a home, feeling desperate or hopeless, and running low on options. Not only did this have a negative impact on the mental state of those effected, but this also often resulted in further issues such as addiction. The novel, The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy exemplifies how expulsion can allocate one in the spiral into further issues. After being evicted from her apartment and fired from her job due to failure to pay back borrowed money from her coworkers, Lelah is left with no other options than to move into her vacant childhood home. Due to the position she is put in, Lelah begins to struggle with a gambling addiction. The novel states, “The chips looked like candy. Pastel, melt-away things that didn’t make sense to save. The feel of them, the click and dry slide of them in her palm, was gratifying. Some people in gamblers anonymous, a place she hadn’t been in months, claimed the tiny ball, spinning and spinning around on its wheel, was the reason they loved the game. ‘It’s like you get a bonus, little bit of show from that ball,’ Zach, a white man who always wore a suit and tie, once said. Other people in the group had nodded knowingly” (Flournoy 43).  Because of her lack of money and recent eviction, Lelah is an easy target in the world of gambling because money is what she needs the most.  Lelah’s situation was not an uncommon occurrence during the 2008 crisis. Feelings of panic and desperation following expulsion put many in a vulnerable situation, easily susceptible to addictions such as gambling. The crisis often left people with little to no places to turn.

            Not only did the crisis deeply impact big banks and investors, borrowers of subprime mortgages, and fictional characters, but also families across America like mine. I entered this class with a slight understanding of what this crisis entailed simply from my personal experience, but after learning about the crisis in-depth and relating several works of literature to the event, my knowledge flourished. I have been able to view this event from the perspective of many individuals besides myself who was four at the time. During the 2008 housing crisis, my dad was exclusively self-employed selling anti-virus and encryption software. Because of the crisis, his business never fully recovered from the drop in revenue. Overall, there were less businesses and therefore less demand for the software he was selling. In order to augment his earnings, he took on a full-time job at a water treatment plant working overnight while continuing to run his business. Because he was essentially working around the clock, my time with him was limited to brief family dinners. My family not only suffered financially but emotionally as well. Many families throughout America were reached by these issues. Whether it be parents taking on multiple jobs to supplement their usual earnings, struggling with mental health issues or addiction such as gambling, or even being expelled from one’s home, the effects were felt nationwide.

            Although set 16 years after the 2008 housing crisis, the novel, Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler can be closely compared to the crisis. Many of the issues that arose in 2008 are mirrored in the novel. The issues seen within Parable of the Sower can be attributed to climate change and economic crises much like the recession of 2008. One of the main ideas present in both the housing crisis and Parable of the Sower is the concept of expulsion. After her town is invaded, Lauren is forcibly expelled from her home and everything she knows. Lauren is stripped of her home, her belongings, and the safety that she once had of living in a gated community. She suddenly finds herself without a home or places to turn, much like those that were expelled in 2008. As she is fleeing her home, Lauren states, “I stood at the gate, staring in as strangers picked among the black bones of our homes. The ruins were still smoking, but men, women, and children were all over them, digging through them, picking fruit from the trees, stripping our dead, quarreling or fighting over new acquisitions, stashing things away in clothing or bundles… Who were these people?” (Butler 158). This image of people invading and taking Lauren’s belongings in and around her home directly compares to what many faced during the 2008 crisis. When evicted, people were forced to only take what they could and leave the rest behind. Lauren is looking behind her to see a mere skeleton of the house she once lived in with the knowledge that it is no longer her home, and she can never return. This is a similar concept faced by those expelled in 2008. Within The Turner House, Lelah’s eviction is comparable to the situation that Lauren is placed in. The novel states, “Lelah had received a few thirty-day notices but always cleared out before the Demand for Possession -a seven-day notice- slid under her door. Seven days might as well have been none this time around; before Lelah knew it the bailiffs we’re knocking, telling her she had two hours to grab what she could, that they would toss whatever she left behind into that dumpster outside” (Flournoy 13). The concept of losing one’s home as well as the majority of one’s belongings can be deeply saddening as our belongings are often what give us our sense of self. Lauren’s life in Parable of the Sower directly coordinates to the events of the 2008 housing crisis as she is forced to leave behind her home and everything inside of it, much like Lelah from The Turner House.

            The housing crisis of 2008 was enveloped by the fraud, trust washing, and detrimental mistakes of big banks and investors in which many people’s lives were turned upside-down. Greed also played a large role in the drive to make money off of unknowing victims as seen in The Big Short. The economical perspective of what happened in 2008 does not even begin to summarize the crisis as there was countless emotional issues brought about with it. Many families such as mine deeply felt the effects of the crisis and were forced to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. These emotional impacts often led to issues such as addiction during times of vulnerability and desperation which was exemplified in The Turner House. Many similarities can be found between the novel, Parable of the Sower, and the housing crisis. Despite being set in the future, expulsion is a prevalent theme within the novel, and it is comparable to the challenges faced by those that lived through the recession. The 2008 housing crisis was an event so impactful that it can be seen represented in several works of literature, and its effects still resonate today.

A Mercy mini-collaboration

Isabelle Hoff, Spencer Jurgielewicz, Abigail Kennedy, Ava McCann, Lucky Ni 

In 2008, the global market crash affected several people of different backgrounds. In particular those of certain socio-economic classes were hit harder than others, which included being expelled from their own homes and communities. Those with less information were impacted worse. This lack of information was due to various deceptions, and flat out lies, told by the government and private entities such as Wall Street and the Big Banks. This is not the first time we have seen deception being used at the disadvantage of others for financial gains. Many people lost their homes so that those in power had more land, which they could even sell. Mortgages could be bought and then sold, essentially financially ruining the innocent homeowner. One example goes back to Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House. Set post-World War II, Jim wants to buy a “fixer up” house in Connecticut to build his family’s dream home; however, over the course of the film it is shown that he is caught in a bunch of deceptions and basically clear-cut lies. For example, he pays 5x the going rate per acre. Being a New Yorker and seen as somebody gullible he is charged more simply for being viewed as an outsider. This is a bad faith action as the owner is taking advantage of him and his status to make fast money. After seeing the house, Jim learns he is in more trouble then he knew as the house would need to be torn down. The house would prove to have multiple issues that would only cost him more and more money. Even tearing the house down itself would have its own set of issues. They never received written permission to tear the house down, meaning the Blandings would have to pay the owner’s mortgage back in full. Jim and his family is an example of a privileged upper-middle class family; however, he is still taken advantage of due to where he is from. Certain elements such as status, race, and background might change overtime, but people will always seem to take advantage of those they can. This is seen in other examples as well with a more modern setting.

The Turner House and The Old Man and the Storm both highlight the struggles of individuals of the African-Amercian community being expelled and being caught up in deceptions from insurance companies, local and Federal governments, and even community members as large during harsh economic times either due to environmental factors or socio-political ones. In general, people were also told to trust CDOs and other loaners. They would have high ratings, despite the fact that they were not trustworthy. People would buy CDOs and take out loans that would end up costing them more money than they could ever gain. People worked hard, trying desperately to keep their homes, just like in the Old Man and the Storm, where Mr. Gettridge was desperately working to restore his family home. He did not want to be expelled from his home, and fought to keep it. In A Mercy, Florens does the very same thing; she fights and works for the perceived right to remain.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison is a story of a young enslaved girl who had been repeatedly expelled from many of the things she holds dear. Although Florens is a literate observer, the lack of information given to her created a situation in which she was then forcibly expelled. First, Florens was taken from her mother as a child due to her former master being in so much debt he is forced to give her as payment instead. Taken away from her family, she is forced to start over with a new group of people, new masters, and new surroundings. As time went on, her master, known as sir, passed away and his wife became very ill. Because of this, Florens was given a letter which allowed her to walk freely to the Blacksmith, with whom she was intimate with, in order to retrieve medicine to cure her. On her travels, Florens met a widow and her Daughter Jane. Florens learned that the town was trying to get rid of the two because they thought they were demons. However, Daughter Jane believes that some of the townspeople said she was a demon in order for the rest to expel them from their home. The widow and Daughter Jane speak together and say, “So I know it is Daughter Jane who says how can I prove I am not a demon and it is the Widow who says sssst it is they who will decide. Silence. Silence. Then back and forth they talk. It is the pasture they crave, Mother”(128). This is a prime example of the amount of deception and lies people are willing to do in order to get what they want, in this case, it is their land. This allows the reader to look back to the 2008 housing crisis and show the pressure people may have been under from the big banks and Wall Street. Florens experiences this deception throughout her relationship with the Blacksmith. The reader can see that Florens is very much so in love with the Blacksmith which seems to not be reciprocated as intensely. Throughout their relationship, the Blacksmith had used Florens feelings towards him in order for him to use her body. Lina, one of Florens friends, dislikes the Blacksmith and says, “‘You are one leaf on his tree,’ Florens shook her head, closed her eyes and replied, “No. I am his tree”(71). It is clear that Florens did not see or even want to see the truth that the Blacksmith was taking advantage of her and didn’t actually care for her. Florens was deceived, pressured, and felt lied to by him. By Florens not being able to recognise the signs in her relationship, she let down her guard and was hurt by him. 

In Toni Morison’s A Mercy, the first page of the passage says, “Another is can you read (3)? She was partially illiterate while a slave Florens is not speaking of a typical form of literacy but instead of the capacity to intercept signs and omens in the natural world. Florens lacks the maturity and experience necessary to exercise restraint in the face of irrational impulses and can’t recognize the potential harm her love for the Blacksmith could cause. Floren continues to be naive in many ways as she accepts the challenges life hands her without understanding why she is subjected to hardship and expulsion regularly. Throughout A Mercy, Morrison draws attention to Florens mother’s absence. Florens feel abandoned because she got abruptly taken away from her original plantation and mother. Florens and the reader can lack the needed framework to understand her mother’s absence without her mother’s point of view. However, readers eventually find out that Florens mother gave her to Jacob Vaark to keep her from being abused. Florens constantly feels her mother’s absence, but she lacks her mother’s perspective, which makes it difficult for her to understand her mother’s love “That is a better dream than a minha mae standing near with her little boy. In those dreams she is always wanting to tell me something. Is stretching her eyes. Is working her mouth. I look away from her” (119). Florens notices that a piece of her life is missing as the absence of her mother is emphasized 

For Florens, her work is for praise and a place to stay. Throughout the story she is constantly worried about not being enough for those around her. This as a result, made her easily open to being deceived. She is described as having a combination of  “defenselessness, eagerness to please and, most of all, a willingness to blame herself for the meanness of others” (179). Florens wants others to like her, for if she is useful and wanted, she will not be forced to leave. She works hard to be around those she loves, and to be what they want her to be. One of the biggest examples being the Blacksmith. When Florens first sees the Blacksmith she is enraptured by him. They spend many nights together, and she falls in love with him. Once he leaves she is consumed by the thought of him, and the fear of never seeing him again. When Rebekka gets sick and asks Florens to go retrieve the Blacksmith, it is no surprise that she jumps upon the opportunity to see him again, no matter the journey she must take she is committed to see him. Florens fights through several hardships on her way, but finally reaches the Blacksmith. In the Blacksmith’s home she reflects on the feelings of safety she has. “Here I am not the one to throw out…No one screams at the sight of me. No one watches my body for how it is unseemly. With you my body is pleasure is safe is belonging. I can never not have you have me” (161). Florens feels like a real person with the Blacksmith. She feels seen, heard, and wanted. These feelings are all Florens wants, and all that she feels she needs. However, the Blacksmith has a child under his care. Malaik, a foundling, is suspicious of Florens, who is entrusted to watch over him while the Blacksmith is away. Malaik reminds Florens of her mother and brother. Florens becomes increasingly paranoid that the Blacksmith will choose him over her, just like her mother. This paranoia boils until Florens ends up accidentally hurting Malaik in an effort to make him be quiet. The Blacksmith arrives at this moment and confronts her, eventually telling her to get out. Despite all of her efforts to be with the Blacksmith (traveling there, helping around the house while he is away, watching over Malaik), Florens is still expelled from his life. 

Another example of Florens being expelled despite her hard work is with Widow Ealing and daughter Jane. Florens had traveled for miles when she came upon the Widow’s home. The Widow took her in, fed her, and allowed her to stay with them. In return, Florens helped around the house, doing minor chores and the dishes. Despite the Ealing’s kindness, when Florens is discovered by the town people she is forced to flee. The people accuse her of being a devil, fearing her darker skin. They inspect her, and treat her with trepidation. When they read the letter carried by Florens, which declared her mission and was signed by Rebekka, they tried to claim that the Devil could write to deceive. Once they finally leave to pray about the letter, Widow Ealing leaves too. It is only Jane and Florens left in the house. Jane helps Florens prepare, and sends her out into the woods. Florens remarks “I walk alone except for the eyes that join me on my journey” (135). Once again she is forced to leave a place of relative safety for her. Despite her efforts to assure the others that she is just as human and good as they are, she is still treated as a devilish threat. Florens is expelled from the kindness of the Ealings, as even the Widow seemed to debate caring for her. Florens is never truly stable in one place, she is moved about from one home to the next. She tries to find her home in people, but due to circumstances, out of her control and in, she will never truly feel at home. This all ties into the concepts of expulsion and deception. She is extorted by numerous individuals either for personal financial gain or even just an idea of holding psychological control. This goes to show deception can come in many forms which Florens witnesses. 

Everyone is responsible, in both reality and in the novel. When it comes to blame, there is not one single person who can hold all of it. Tracing back to reality, those responsible go all the way back to our ancestors. Then to our teachers, family, peers, mentors, and ourselves. Each group has played a hand into what we learn and how we learned it. One non-human entity that is responsible is perhaps the system itself. While there is no legal or moral concept of “an enslaved person or persons” today in 21st century America. However, there are similar institutionalized applications that might keep people tied and or endebted to others. Deception is a way to potentially control peoples financial and social lives through loopholes, extortion, and lies. These all parallel times when slavery was legal going back to the 17th century and people would extort others and control aspects of their lives. Ultimately, Florens and those around her are responsible. Florens sought too hard for the wrong things. Mother worked to protect her, despite her message being lost to Florens. The Blacksmith led Florens on, and did nothing to explain things to her. Jacob and Rebekka did not put much care into teaching her. Lina tried to keep Florens safe no matter what. Sorrow, kept her distance. They all had parts to play in Flornes’ expulsion.