For the third month in a row, more than 300,000 homes went into foreclosure. And for those who have to carry out evictions, throwing people out of their homes is a stressful and dangerous job. In New York City in recent years, two marshals have been shot, and one was set on fire and killed trying to evict a woman in Brooklyn.
A Knock On The Door
Ileana Rivera has done thousands of evictions in the past three years. Today, she's walking up four flights of stairs to her next job — an apartment in uptown Manhattan.
Rivera schedules about 25 evictions a day. That might sound like it's routine work, but she never knows what's going to be behind the next door. Rivera visibly tenses up as she bangs on the door, announcing her arrival.
"Hello! City marshal!"
No one answers, so Rivera starts picking the lock. She's still listening for people inside.
"I smell a dog," she says. "I don't hear it, though. But I smell a dog."
The lock won't give, so Rivera starts prying off the lock. Her driver is a large, burly guy named Tony, who doesn't talk much. As the door opens, Tony stands closer to Rivera. His eyes never leave the doorway. Rivera creeps slowly into the hallway, again calling out to anyone living there.
"Hello! City marshal!"
This time, they're lucky. No one's home.
"You know, if we ever feel we're threatened, we'll definitely walk away," says Rivera. "We call the police department, because we're not here to arrest people or to make any type of problems. We're just here to execute warrants."
Looking at Rivera, you wouldn't think she throws people out of their homes every day. Rivera is in her early 30s, barely 5-foot-2, and nearly always smiling. Then you look down and see a black handgun on her hip, right next to her cell phone.
"I get a lot of, 'You're the marshal?' " she says, laughing. "That's what I get. And it's like, if I have a driver with me, they'll talk to him before they talk to me. And I'm like, "Hi! I'm over here — the one with the badge. Yes, that's me."
Just The Middleman
In other counties, deputy sheriffs or constables carry out evictions. They're paid by the government. In New York City, marshals are technically public officials because they're appointed and regulated by the city, but they don't get a city salary. They're like bouncers-for-hire — private entrepreneurs who are paid directly by landlords and lenders who need to carry out evictions. For Rivera, it's a business. But some think it's a nasty business.
The advocacy group ACORN has been demonstrating outside marshals' offices, calling for a one-year moratorium on all foreclosures in the state and for all city marshals to stop evictions immediately. ACORN member Jean-Andre Sassine says a city marshal has the power to help reverse the housing crisis.
"He's paid. He's a contractor," says Sassine. "He doesn't have to execute an order. He can pass it on to the next guy, and if they keep passing it on and passing it on, then it doesn't get followed through and people get to keep their homes."
When Rivera later heard that suggestion, she just shook her head. That's like telling the IRS not to collect taxes.
"We're just a middleman," she says. "We're just there to do a job."
She says people forget eviction orders come from judges, not marshals. By the time she knocks on the door, an eviction case has been in court for months.
"Everybody sees us, like, you know, we're the messenger of misery," says Rivera. "'How could you do this? How could you do that job? That's such a nasty and horrible job.' You know, I get a lot of, 'What about my children?' when I'm doing evictions, and they're parents with little kids. And I simply have to tell them, 'Your kids are your responsibility, not mine.' "
Rivera's own mother thought her daughter would never be able to stomach her new career.
"She goes, 'You'll never be able to do this job. You have a great heart,' she would tell me. 'This is not for you.' "
Well, it is good money. Rivera's eviction work doubled last year, reaching about 1,000 cases. Rivera wouldn't say how much she earns in a year, but the city says most marshals make a hefty six figures — a few have made millions. The highest earners do more than evictions — they've towed cars and collected money judgments for litigants. Rivera says she's grateful to have this job, even if she hates telling people what she actually does for a living.
"Yeah, I don't tell anybody I'm a NYC marshal," she says. "And my son — I say, 'If anybody asks you what your mom does, just tell them to come and talk to me.' "
She tells them she's a secretary.