I have decided not to go gently into that good night, and by good night I mean imminent foreclosure without a safe place to land. It's bewildering and confusing and embarrassing to find myself in this financial situation, and I am still making concessions to my new economic reality. The real horror, of course, is the awful recognition that I have been unable to save myself when it counted. Hard work, optimism, and faith in the system couldn't save me. So be it. Que sera, sera. Shit happens, as they say, and life isn't fair.
I will not go silently. I have fought for others all my life, and now I owe it to myself to speak up for myself, and for the hundreds of thousands like me, especially older single women quietly losing our homes. I am sixty-four years old and soon I'll be out on the streets.
AARP's Public Policy Institute published a study in 2012, Nightmare on Main Street: Older Americans and the Mortgage Market Crisis (warning: pdf) which describes the issue, and concludes that public policies have been inadequate to address the problem.
From the executive summary:
This is the first study to measure the progression of the mortgage crisis and its effect on people age 50 and older. Based on an analysis of nationwide loan-level data...for the years 2007 through 2011, this study examines loan performance based on borrower age, loan type, and borrower demographics. The study shows that no age group, race, or ethnicity has been spared from the effects of declining home values and the financial difficulties caused the Great Recession and continuing economic weakness.I am in foreclosure because my home is now worth approximately 60% of its original sale price when we bought it in 1997, before the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. I live in a vibrant Chicago suburb on the edge of Chicago's North Shore. It is unprecedented that our homes have lost so much value, and the housing market in my neighborhood has in recovered so slowly. The irony is that I originally had a fifteen-year mortgage; my home would have been paid off in 2012, before my current health and financial issues, if I had not re-financed my home.
Despite the perception that older Americans are more housing secure than younger people, millions of older Americans are carrying more mortgage debt than ever before and more than three million are at risk of losing their homes...
As of December 2011, approximately 3.5 million loans of people 50+ were underwater--meaning homeowners owe more than their home is worth.
My crime is that I survived cancer in 2004, shortly after ending a thirty-year marriage. I had health insurance, but I wouldn't know just how crappy the coverage was until the medical and hospital bills started coming due. It was said in my cancer survivor group that having no insurance was better than having crappy insurance. I learned the hard way.
I laugh now to remember how blessed I felt that I did not have to declare bankruptcy in 2005. Instead, I thought I was being responsible. I re-financed my home, and I paid the cancer bills, and I got a job and I worked.
President Obama has said that no one should go bankrupt paying medical bills. But that is exactly what is currently happening to me, albeit deferred for a decade after my surgery. At the time I re-financed, in 2005, I was unaware of how changes in banking regulations and new seedy and deceptive lending practices would affect me and so many millions of others when the housing market collapsed in 2008.
For me, 2013 was the year of the perfect storm, when my principal client told me that he was cutting back my workload, when I became ill, when Bank of America gave me the run-around for six months when I requested a loan modification or special forbearance, when I went through the last of my 401k, and when I could no longer make a mortgage payment and I could not sell my house.
[Incidentally, people who have made on-time mortgage payments for forty years do not suddenly decide not to make a payment. I think that might be a long-lost natural law of Physics that today's bankers don't understand].
Millions of people have been devastated, beyond our collective ability to comprehend the scope and scale of the foreclosure tragedies playing out on Main Street. Financial distress and loss of homes are not the only consequences of the mortgage crisis. In their research, Currie and Tekin asked, Is There A Link Between Foreclosure and Health?
Our findings indicate that a rise in foreclosures is associated with significant increases in hospital and emergency room visits for conditions including mental health problems, heart attack, and stroke, as well as for conditions such as hypertension, that could be prevented by appropriate care. We find statistically significant effects for all age groups including children and the elderly.Now what?
The foreclosures are still happening, at epidemic proportions. It's happening to me now. Isn't it time we have a national debate and formulate a public policy?
There is a robbery in progress. I have been robbed by an industry that manipulated housing markets and mortgages, at great profit to themselves, and then benefited again by actually seizing property. Why haven't the criminals who devised the lending schemes and perpetuated crimes upon the public been brought before the courts? Why aren't some already in prison? Why is mortgage fraud a low priority for the FBI? How many home mortgages could be paid off if Wall Street bankers donated half their bonuses to prevent foreclosures? Or if their tax rates were raised? What if the Koch Bros had been inspired by the 1950s television show, The Millionaire, when they were kids, and sent out anonymous checks to citizens instead of spending money to build their perfect fossil-fueled fascist state? What help is available and easily accessible without a year of jumping through hoops? How do I explain to my dear grandson why I am living in the streets? Why aren't we yelling about grannies and grandpas losing their homes? It is happening everywhere. Here and Now.