The American dream is quickly becoming the American nightmare for Erie County homeowners.
"We're losing so many jobs, and people are losing their homes," said Perkins Township resident Joe Harvey, who lost four properties to foreclosure after he failed to make mortgage payments.
He's not alone.
The number of foreclosures in Erie County has nearly quadrupled in the last decade. The Erie County Sheriff's office recorded fewer than 90 properties foreclosed in 1991, and the number is expected to reach 400 this year.
The reasons are as varied as the people affected.
Death of a spouse, divorce, high interest rates, sub-prime home loans and job loss contribute to the spiral of homeowner despair.
Harvey, who had never missed a payment in more than 10 years, felt the mortgage squeeze late last year when his home loan interest rates rocketed to 11 percent. He tried to work with the banks, but they couldn't reach an agreement.
"I felt real bad because I lost a lot of money," he said. "I definitely tried several times to get a fixed rate, and they wouldn't budge ... I was losing more than I was making, so it was time to bail out."
The foreclosure process often begins with missed mortgage payments.
The final nail can come in the form of a sheriff's auction, and it takes no more than a few seconds for a home or business to change hands.
Capt. Steven Westcott conducted the auction last Tuesday. He said the majority of the people at the auction were banks buying the properties back.
About 25 representatives from banks and law offices -- and some curious onlookers -- stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the first-floor foyer at the Erie County Courthouse Tuesday for the county's Sheriff's sale.
In less than an hour nearly 30 properties were purchased with starting bids ranging from $25,000 to $114,000.
"This was a big turnout, and there were a lot of sales," Westcott said after it was over.
Civil Clerk Judy Schwochow, who records the auction results at the Sheriff's sale for the Erie County Sheriff's office, said the number of properties sold Tuesday was about average for the sales each month of this year.
Westcott, who has worked sheriff's sales for the last four years, said there have been few occasions where the homeowners have come to bid on their own properties.
There are several options available for people in the community who are facing or think they might face foreclosure.
Sue Daugherty and Charlene Adams, local non-profit advocates, have come together to organize a foreclosure prevention town meeting this week.
"If you think you're a target for foreclosure, you should come to this meeting," said Daugherty, the executive director for Serving Our Seniors, a non-profit organization committed to helping and promoting independence among Erie County seniors ages 60 years and older.
"Acknowledge it early and get help."
Daugherty and Adams recruited representatives from the Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland to come to Sandusky to discuss what options are available for people who want to fight to keep their homes.
The housing service is a non-profit organization that provides programs for families "to achieve and preserve the American dream of homeownership in northeast Ohio," which includes Erie County.
"There are things that can be done to save your house," said Adams, executive director of the Center for Cultural Awareness. "It's really become a big problem in our area."
Those options will be discussed during Thursday's town meeting.
"We need to make the community aware this office exists," Daugherty said. "There is help for you if you are in the foreclosure process. It's in nobody's best interest to foreclose a home."
This year, the number of older adults dealing with foreclosure issues has doubled, Daugherty said.
"If we have enough demand, we would like staff from Cleveland to move to Sandusky," she said.
If Daugherty and Adams can line up seven people for appointments with representatives of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, it would make it worthwhile for the staff members to come to Sandusky instead of having already cash-strapped residents travel to Cleveland.
"The government's got to step in to do something or there's going to be a lot of homeless people out there," Adams said.
Keeping your home
WHAT: Foreclosure prevention town meeting
WHERE: Third floor, Erie County office building, 247 Columbus Ave.
WHEN: 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday
For more information about the meeting, contact case manager Liza
Moreland at 419-621-1117.