(AFP/Getty Images/File/Joe Raedle)
By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press
By the time deputies came to escort Addie Polk out of her home of 38 years, the 90-year-old had taken out her life insurance policy and placed it next to her pocketbook and keys in the neatly kept house.
She shot herself in the chest Oct. 1 before she could be taken away from the foreclosed house, which was worth less than its mortgage from the day she took out the loan.
A congressman called her the face of a national tragedy, the housing crisis that has affected millions of Americans. Neighbors were stunned and said they had no idea the widow had been about to lose her two-story, white vinyl home.
And Polk, as she recovered, sounded a bit regretful.
"She said that was a crazy thing to do," said neighbor Robert Dillon, 62, who visited her at the hospital.
He said he told her, "That's crazy to you. The good Lord could have been in control."
Polk's cause was taken up by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and fueled blogs on reckless lending practices rampant during the housing boom. Mortgage finance company Fannie Mae dropped the foreclosure, forgave her mortgage and said she could remain in the home.
"You have to shoot yourself to get help," lamented a neighbor, Hannah Garrett, 76.
The Summit County Sheriff's Department concluded that Polk shot herself over the foreclosure, Lt. Kandy Fatheree said. A revolver was inches from her, and the house was locked.
Dillon heard the gunfire Oct. 1, climbed through Polk's upstairs bathroom window and found her lying in bed bleeding.
Polk was recovering at Akron General Medical Center, and did not immediately respond to a mailed Associated Press request for an interview. The hospital would not release information about her condition.
Dillon hadn't been aware of Polk's financial situation but said she had indicated she couldn't afford roof or porch repairs.
Polk's blue-collar neighborhood, overlooking a duck pond and a noisy highway near Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s world headquarters, is a mix of renovated and worn-out houses. Unlike some hard-hit areas, there were no for-sale signs on the brick street on a recent day.
Polk's home gives no outward sign of financial turmoil. Rows of hosta plants line her front yard and a neighbor keeps the grass trimmed. Neighbors said Polk, who has no children, drives herself to church services and goes out to dinner with friends on Sundays.
"She didn't act like she was under stress," Garrett said. "It was really sad. I was shocked. When you saw her, she was happy-go-lucky."
Polk took out a mortgage in 1997 and refinanced several times after that, court and property records showed.
She took out a 30-year, 6.375 percent mortgage for $45,620 four years ago when the house was appraised at $31,230.
That move put her in a position that, according to Deutsche Bank, up to 40 percent of borrowers, or 20 million households nationwide, could face within 12 to 18 months: Suddenly Polk owed more on her house than it was worth.
While many households ran into that problem when once-soaring house prices declined, there was no bubble on LaCroix Avenue, located in a city whose population dropped 4 percent since 2000 amid declining manufacturing.
In the midst of the House debate on the economic rescue package, Kucinich made some calls about Polk's plight and rushed to the House floor to denounce the foreclosure action against her.
The Cleveland Democrat and two-time presidential candidate said anyone could have known that offering a mortgage more than the home's value to a woman in her 80s was setting her up to fail.
Fannie Mae, which had assumed the Countrywide Home Loan mortgage on Polk's home, believes a reversal of the foreclosure was appropriate given the circumstances, a Fannie Mae spokesman said. Fannie Mae filed the foreclosure Sept. 6, 2007.
Garrett said Polk's story would make older people worry.
"The same thing could happen to us," said her husband, Elisha Garrett, 74, a retired tractor factory worker.
Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press.