Letters: Haiti And Walking Away From Debt

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TOTN listener Cherie commented on our show about Haiti, and shared her understanding of Haitians' beliefs and worldview. Also, listeners shared their takes on the ethics of walking away from mortgages they cannot afford to pay.


It's Tuesday, the day we read from your emails and blog comments. Our show on the ethics of, quote, "walking away from your mortgage" brought in many emails from people who found themselves with underwater mortgages.

One listener wrote, I live in Arizona, and between 2004 - 2006 purchased three rentals and one owner-occupied house. With four children, we are upside down on all houses, including our primary. We have morally chosen to keep our obligations and have chosen to put energy and effort into building strong community in our neighborhood, recognizing we will all be here long term together since homes are less than 50 percent value of purchase.

We suffer as a family as a result of this decision, we have negative cash flow, about $1,000 per month, and live very frugally and decline our kids' extracurricular activities and vacations due to upholding all these mortgage obligations. I think we would suffer more in the negative credit implications, as well as guilt, if we were to default. We chose the harder, but we believe the right road, in keeping to our obligations. That from Cameron(ph) in Phoenix.

Another listener came to a different conclusion. Carla(ph) in Sonoma wrote, If the banks didn't have homeowners over a barrel by threatening us with destroying our credit, this housing crisis would end more quickly. We have a credit score of 820, and are underwater on our mortgage in Northern California, on which we put 20 percent down. We have upgraded this home to the tune of $80,000 since. Our only mistakes were that we bought our home during a bubble, 2005; and that we thought we were getting good advice from our loan officer about the type of loan offered to us - pick a payment - and the bank agreed with the appraised value of our home at the time.

By the way, we have been thinking of strategic default as an option for some time. We are completely okay with the moral issue and have no qualms about taking this route, despite our deep ties to the community and kids in school.

After a powerful earthquake devastated Haiti, we talked to Haitians about their culture and about some misconceptions surrounding it as well. But Joanne(ph) in Sudbury objected to the use of a piece of tape airing Pat Robertson's comments about the country, saying, I am dismayed that TOTN dignified Pat Robertson's comment about Haiti's pact with the devil by airing it on the program. Even if the goal was to be provocative and the guest made a terrifically articulate and appropriate response, this is not what I expected to hear on NPR.

But Cherie(ph), commenting on our Web site, was glad that we talked about more than Haiti's poverty and told us a little bit about the Haiti she knows. I'm so glad you went beyond Haiti as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Okay, we know that. But even with nothing and the odds stacked against them, Haitians remained steadfast and resilient. This too shall pass. Haiti is a pariah because it is one of the few Black nations that take honest pride in its African roots.

For a nation that has nothing, no infrastructure and no reliable government, it still manages to survive. The people work hard; students fortunate enough to go to school, flourish; parents do their best to raise the young and care for the old. They are God-fearing, regardless of who that God might be. They are a good bunch of people who openly help to liberate others. Poor, yes, but with those things that come with a price tag. Integrity, pride, self-conviction are priceless and should not be termed poor by any means.

Our languages - both of them, French and Creole - are rich. Our music, our food, the way we dance and sway are expressions - be it of joy or sorrow. From our dark ebony tones to the fairest shades, we are rich.

We'll continue to cover both the rich culture she describes in Haiti and the crisis, and we hope you'll continue to write to us. You can always reach us at talk@npr.org. Please let us know where you're writing from and give us some help on how to pronounce your name.

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