Foreclosures in Virginia rose 400 percent in the past year — a sign that both the economy and the country’s housing boom are headed South.

This may come as a surprise to the fantasy-laden politicians in Washington who keep issuing statements with rosy economic news but many Americans face difficulties paying their mortgages and the problem worsens each passing day.

Today’s Roanoke Times tells the story of a young Franklin County couple who face loss of their dream home not so much because of anything they did wrong but because of changing rules in the so-called "sub-prime" lending market.

Amy and I paid off the mortgage on our home in Northern Virginia several years before we sold it and moved to the mountains. That allowed us to purchase our home here without a mortgage and we have, fortunately, reached the stage where a monthly mortgage payment is no longer part of our lives.

But we both remember, all too well, that afternoon in Fairfax, Virginia, in 1984 when we went over the mortgage papers and signed on the dotted line for a 15-year mortgage at the then bargain-basement interest rate of 12 percent.  At $1200 a month we worried about the ability to keep up the payments.  Many months in those early days were lean. When interest rates dropped I investigated refinancing but interest on a 15 year mortgage is front-loaded and in five years we were actually paying less than six percent with the percentage dropping each month.  We paid the loan off on October 1, 1989, and held a proper mortgage-burning party.

Our home appreciated several hundred percent and we sold it at the height of the real estate boom in late 2004. A few months later, the housing market in that area began to crumble, so much so that couples with large mortgages now face negative equity in their homes. Our timing turned out to be blind luck, nothing more.

America is a nation built on debt. Our government’s debt is at a record high and Americans borrow more and more each day in a futile effort to keep up. So strapped are Americans that pawn shops and "payday" lenders report record businesses. Payday lenders are predators who descend on debt-laden citizens like sharks in a feeding frenzy, trapping them in a cycle of debt with interest rates as high as 782 percent a year.

So many Americans are trapped in this cycle that the American dream of home ownership has become a national nightmare.

And it may be a while before this nation wakes up.