Jennifer Gonnerman wins the September Sidney Award for “Last Home Standing”
The Hillman Foundation announced today that Jennifer Gonnerman has won the September Sidney Award for “Last Home Standing,” her piece in the September 14 issue of New York magazine, about the struggle of Jacqueline Tamaklo, one of the millions of victims of predatory mortgage scandals in the country.
Tamaklo purchased a house that she found through the pastor of her church. She thought she had agreed to a monthly mortgage payment of $2,500, but when she signed the final documents, that amount had jumped to $3,600. Her pastor led her to believe that she would be able to re-finance a couple of months later to lower her payments to an affordable amount.
This type of trickery is common with predatory lending, in which lenders deceptively convince buyers to accept terms that are unfair and often lead to foreclosure.
Sidney Award judge Charles Kaiser said, “Jennifer Gonnerman does a splendid job of putting a human face on the predatory mortgage scandal which has victimized millions of Americans. Gonnerman found that nearly half of Tamaklo’s neighbors on her one-block-long street on the Rockaway Peninsula face the same predicament: they are ‘at war, each with a different opponent: HSBC, IndyMac, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York, Long Beach Mortgage. Every time a bank or mortgage company prevails, another neighbor disappears.’”
Josephine Ross, a Queens Village resident who came within two days of losing her house, told Gonnerman that the sight of strangers going door to door, peddling fraudulent mortgage deals, has become so prevalent, that one day her 8-year-old nephew answered the doorbell, turned around, and announced, “There’s a real-estate-scam person at the door.”
Gonnerman is a contributing editor at New York magazine, and a contributing writer forMother Jones. She has written many other fine pieces about working-class men and women, including subway track workers, Chinese food deliverymen, and livery cab dispatchers.
Her book, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), chronicled the homecoming of a woman who spent 16 years in prison for a first-time drug offense under New York’s Rockefeller drug laws. It was a finalist for a National Book Award.