Editor's note: The Great Recession, which hit Elkhart County hard, is over and the economy is rebounding. Right? That's what some experts say, though occasional economic turbulence and local unemployment of 9 percent sometimes make it hard to believe. In this four-day series, today, Sept. 6, through Sunday, the Elkhart Truth revisits a few of the many people hit by the economic downturn with whom we've spoken to see how they're now faring. Read what they said, then and now.The series was done in conjunction with the British newspaper The Guardian. Reporters from the newspaper visited Elkhart in 2008 and again over the summer to gauge the local fallout of the recession and the impact of President Obama's economic reform efforts.Read Part 2, Ed Neufeldt's story, here.Read Part 3, Craig Johnson's story, here.Read Part 4, Umeki Williams' story, here.
ELKHART — They have a roof over their heads, a rental.
They're not out on the street.
Even so, the dream of homeownership for Terry and Desiree Gonyon and their large blended family, who lost their house to foreclosure in 2009, will probably remain just that for now — a dream.
When the Gonyons lost their old, rambling home here to the bank because they couldn't keep up with the mortgage payments — an all-too-common tale as the economy has sputtered — it also did a number on their ability to borrow. The foreclosure shows up on Terry Gonyon's credit report, a red flag for would-be lenders, and will stay there for perhaps 10 years.
Homeownership is “definitely a goal. It's always going to be a goal until we achieve it,” said Desiree Gonyon.
Still, they're not holding their breath. Beyond their shaky credit, there's the matter of affordability to consider. The recession dried out work opportunities for Terry Gonyon, who had worked as an independent construction contractor.
Only now is the family getting back on its feet. Both elder Gonyons work at Wal-Mart and they're able to cover their bills. But saving for a down payment with their massive family, including eight kids? Forget about it.
“Realistically, it might not happen until all the kids are out of the house,” said Terry Gonyon, seated in the living room of the family's large, four-bedroom rental home in south central Elkhart.
One of the kids down in the basement, where they're playing computer games, shouts out about some apparent injustice. “Mom!”
LOSING THE HOME
The Gonyons moved into the airy house on Main Street south of downtown Elkhart in 2005. Coming from a small two-bedroom home, it was a godsend, giving the kids room to play and mom and dad space to occasionally decompress.
A series of factors and the down economy conspired against the family, though, and by late 2007, they were no longer able to keep up with the monthly mortgage payments. It happened to many people in Elkhart, many people nationwide.
For starters, the initial interest rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was higher than the Gonyons actually thought it would be, 11.27 percent. Then, after a pricey home insurance policy was forced on the family, the monthly home payment spiked around $400 to nearly $1,300.
Simultaneously, as the Great Recession took hold,Terry Gonyon started getting fewer construction jobs, reducing the family income stream.
The lender “refused to work with me,” as Terry Gonyon put it back in 2009, and thereafter, foreclosure proceedings commenced.
The Gonyons had already stopped making mortgage payments. Then on March 31, 2009, the foreclosure case having wound its way through Elkhart Superior Court, an Elkhart County Sheriff's Department deputy showed up on the doorstep to enforce eviction.
The family left, moved into a cramped mobile home in Bristol.
A GALLON OF MILK A DAY
Life isn't bad in the Elkhart house where the Gonyons now live, a two-story, four-bedroom affair with a basement. It doesn't have much of a yard, though, and being a rental, the family is subject to the whims of the landlord, who, in fact, has been talking about selling the place, maybe by year's end.
“That's one of our fears — when you're renting a place they'll sell it and you'll have to move again,” said Terry Gonyon.
At least their jobs at Wal-Mart are relatively stable. Terry Gonyon, 42, works part-time, serving at times as a “stay-at-home dad,” while Desiree Gonyon, 32, who's been promoted a few notches since starting last year, is a full-timer.
“With the jobs we're in, we're comfortable and safe,” said Desiree Gonyon. “There's always going to be the need for that type of store.”
Indeed, the income stream is steady and they're comfortable enough, though hardly living a life of luxury. With eight kids to feed, the monthly food bill, including a gallon or so of milk a day, is around $2,000.
“So far we've been pretty good. We've been blessed,” said Terry Gonyon. “Everything's current, thank God.”
It's just that buying a house, with their shaky credit and limited savings, simply isn't in the realm of options, at least right now. “We're going to be renting for a while,” Terry Gonyon said.