A Nigerian immigrant who runs an executive car service, Otigba learned over burgers and potato salad that his new neighbors, all of them black, included a White House staffer, a Grammy-winning producer, a lawyer, a nurse, an engineer and a fellow business owner. That's an impressive lineup in most any community, but here in Prince George's County, the most affluent majority-black county in the United States, the Otigbas and their neighbors were just part of the wave of well-to-do families who arrived in the years before the financial collapse to stake their claim on a 5,000-square-foot version of the American dream.
Outside the cul-de-sac's seven brandy-colored brick neocolonials, party conversation quickly turned to typical middle-class concerns, from the quality of area schools to guidelines for the local homeowners association. By the time the Otigbas cleaned up and helped the hired DJ pack his equipment, several of their new neighbors had made something else clear. Most planned to spend the coming decades living in Balk Hill.
"I found that refreshing," said Otigba, 43. "When we moved here, I told my wife, 'This is it. I'm never moving again.' We were planting our roots."
That was then. Today, the Otigbas and five of their six immediate neighbors are underwater on their mortgages, that is, they owe more than their homes are worth. The lawyer's house sits vacant after a failed short sale. The engineer fears the house he shares with his family will become unaffordable when their mortgage resets in about a year. And having attempted once unsuccessfully to cut a new deal with their bank, the Otigbas are waiting to hear the results of a second effort. For months they've lived in fear that an official foreclosure notice will arrive with an order to vacate. [Read more]