The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark - Off-Ramp for September 14, 2013

Five years after Lehman, an LA couple starts a new life

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Kevin Ferguson

Kai Schmoll (L) with Monty Phillips (R) at their Mt. Washington home in 2011.

On September 15 five years ago, the investment firm Lehman Brothers collapsed, as appropriate of a starting point as any for the Great Recession.

Two years ago, unemployment was hovering between 9 and 9.5 percent. Everybody knew somebody who was either unemployed, underwater on their home, or both.

For Off-Ramp's Hard Times series, producer Kevin Ferguson talked with Kai Schmoll and Monty Phillips, a married couple living in Mount Washington. Like a lot of Americans, Kai and Monty had moved into the house of their dreams and soon found found out they couldn't pay for it. Monty, who had a stable job in the film industry, recalled the day he lost his job.

Kai and Monty tried to fight the foreclosure, but they soon gave up and moved out. Not just out of the house--they left the state of California entirely. 

Now, Off-Ramp is looking at life five years after the recession started and checking in with families. Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson talked with Kai and Monty to see how they've been.

As they said they'd planned in the original story, Kai and Monty moved to Asheville, South Carolina just under two years ago. It was a stressful move.  "We were just in such dire straits at the time. Monty had lost his job in the film industry," said Schmoll.

For Kai, an actor, leaving behind Los Angeles and its film industry proved to a boon for his movie career. "I really thought I had given it up," he said. "There are a good number of television shows shot in the area. And the pool of talent down here is not as big as it is in LA. I mean, honestly, the part that I just played — if I had been auditioning for it in L.A., I would've been auditioning against several hundred other guys."

Monty, on the other hand, has left the film industry altogether. He makes and sells jewelry out of a studio in Asheville's arts district. While it's hard to find decent Mexican food in Asheville, they said, it's been very difficult adjusting to South Carolina's very different political climate. The state doesn't recognize their California marriage, though they're entitled to some federal benefits. "[South Carolina] used to be a progressive Southern state," said Monty. "And is now, I guess, what you might call a regressive Southern State."

Overall, both Schmoll and Phillips feel like they've recovered from the recession — that they're doing OK. "I'm just glad that the house no longer belongs to us, said Kai. "In retrospect, I wish that we hadn't exhausted out eighteen month safety net that we had. If I had known then what I know how, I just would've kept that savings intact and walked away from the house. And my credit would probably already be back to normal now."


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