Yarsin Cotton thought he had until May to find a new place to live.
But on Friday, April 13, Gwinnett deputies evicted Cotton, his sister, two cousins and 2-year-old nephew from the yellow, two-story house hed rented for the past year. The reason: Their landlord fell behind in his mortgage payments.
It hurts, Cotton said. We dont have family around here. And we have no place to go.
The Cottons eviction from 2103 Blackberry Circle in east Gwinnett was one of seven carried out by county deputies on Friday. Sheriffs Department officials say they handle about 100 of these kinds of evictions every month. And that number is growing.
[Evictions are] difficult all the time, said Gwinnett Sheriffs Sgt. Barry Milliner, who oversees officers who handle evictions. But its really difficult when you have to deal with kids.
His officers stay busy. They handle about 500 evictions a month, he said. About 1 of every five is due to foreclosure against a homeowner, and the others involve delinquent renters, he said.
The number of foreclosures filed in Gwinnett jumped more than 260 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to statistics compiled by Equity Depot, a company that tracks foreclosures. The percentage increase in Gwinnett was larger than the ones in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb or Fulton counties.
Dan Immergluck, an associate professor with the City and Regional Planning Program at Georgia Tech, says the impact of high foreclosure rates in cities across the country, including metro Atlanta, is worsening.
This problem is huge, Immergluck said.
In an appearance before a congressional subcommittee last month, Immergluck singled out Gwinnett, a predominantly middle-income county, to show that lower-income neighborhoods arent the only areas being affected by rising foreclosure rates.
From Jan. 1, 2000, through April 1, 2007, banks and other lending institutions filed 30,498 foreclosure notices in Gwinnett County, according to Equity Depot statistics.
Gwinnett ranked third behind Fulton and DeKalb counties in foreclosure filings during that period. Fulton had 54,741 and DeKalb had 52,074.
Real estate and lending industry experts say rising foreclosures pose long-term dangers to the economy. Abandoned houses with plummeting values can result in declining property values for whole neighborhoods. In a worst-case scenario, local governments raise taxes to offset a revenue shortfall created by declining property values.
Youre talking about tens of thousands of households being affected by this, Immergluck said.
Its not clear how many foreclosure filings resulted in evictions or the forced sale of the properties. Under Georgia law, property owners have a month to bring their payments up to date, renegotiate their loans or even sell their properties before the properties can be taken.
Homes fall into foreclosure for a variety of reasons, including catastrophic events such as the death of a spouse or a business failure.
In recent years, overly aggressive lenders who prod potential home purchasers to buy more house than they can afford have drawn blame for rising foreclosure rates. In some instances, the home buyer is a victim of mortgage fraud.
The Cottons rented their house from Juan Flores, a first-time home buyer who moved out of the house nearly two years ago when his job required he leave metro Atlanta. He now lives in Florida.
Flores said costly home repairs and lagging rental payments contributed to his problem keeping up with his loan payments, although the Cottons payments were up to date when the eviction occured.
The Cottons received an eviction notice in late February and turned it over to the landlord, who said he didnt have enough time to stop the foreclosure.
Flores said he did everything he could to help the Cottons find new housing before their eviction. He returned to Atlanta to visit apartment complexes with them in order to vouch for them.
I did what I could, Flores said in a telephone interview. I gave back their last months rent.
But the eviction came more quickly than they expected. Friday night, Cotton was storing his belongings in a rental unit and looking for a hotel for his family.