Foreclosures and the Elderly: What if LeadingAge Members Could Help?

by Published On: Aug 06, 2012Updated On: Apr 02, 2015
Photo: BasicGov on Flickr

AARP just released Nightmare on Main Street: Older Americans and the Mortgage Market Crisis, the first study to measure how the current foreclosure crisis is affecting people who are 50 and older. The report paints a gloomy picture of housing insecurity among a growing number of older Americans who are losing their homes to foreclosure.

It’s easy to get discouraged in the face of such distressing findings. But a growing number of people in the finance, housing and aging fields – including me – are beginning to think that providers of long-term services and supports (LTSS) might be able to salvage something good from the foreclosure crisis through a little creative thinking and a lot of collaboration.

Mortgage Debt: A Big Problem for More Older Americans

After analyzing nationwide loan-level data for the years 2007 to 2011, AARP researchers concluded that older Americans are carrying more mortgage debt than ever before – and experiencing serious financial challenges in the process: 

  • 1.5 million older Americans lost their homes to foreclosure between 2007 and 2011, and 3 million more are currently at risk of foreclosure.
  • 3.5 million home loans were “underwater” in Dec. 2011, meaning that older homeowners owed more than their homes were worth. 
  • 600,000 mortgages taken out by older homeowners were in foreclosure at the end of 2011.
  • Older homeowners were 90 or more days delinquent on an additional 625,000 mortgages.

Why the Foreclosure Crisis has Everyone Concerned

In meeting after meeting, I’m hearing professionals in a variety of fields discussing how the foreclosure crisis affects their work. I’m not surprised when these discussions take place during meetings at the Federal Reserve Board. But, I pay special attention when the topic comes up at meetings about issues like livable communities and care coordination.

Obviously, the foreclosure crisis is of interest to bankers and financial experts seeking to gauge the economy’s health. But the foreclosure crisis also concerns local officials and community planners who fear for the health of neighborhoods now dotted with vacant housing that is quickly becoming blighted housing.

Aging advocates are understandably concerned about how the foreclosure crisis is affecting the housing and financial stability of the elderly. Providers of aging services are particularly worried about their ability to deliver home and community-based services to older people when the “home” part of the equation is clearly in jeopardy.

Foreclosures: An Intriguing Solution

LeadingAge members can’t help older homeowners get back the homes they’ve lost to foreclosure. But there is something these providers can do to revive foreclosure-damaged neighborhoods while helping low-income elderly weather the crisis.

Consider this idea, which is being discussed over Washington water coolers as a potential solution for Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Michigan and other states with high foreclosure rates and large numbers of older homeowners:

  • What if public-private partnerships – including LTSS providers – bought housing developments with large numbers of foreclosed properties and turned those developments into Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities? 
  • What if older people lived alone or with others in affordable single-family homes within these developments? 
  • What if aging services providers created a housing-plus-services infrastructure within these transformed neighborhoods so older residents could remain healthy and independent for as long as possible? 

Challenging Aging Services Providers to Act

Clearly, for-profit developers and speculators are poised to start buying up foreclosed properties with the goal of profiting on their resale.

What if aging services providers teamed up with local governments and banks and beat them to it?

In my mind, this “what if” scenario could go a long way toward improving the quality of life of older Americans while giving local communities a much-needed boost.

Who’s game?


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