Foreclosure crisis hits older Americans hard

BY JOSH LEDERMAN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 1.5 million older Americans already have lost their homes, with millions more at risk as the national housing crisis takes its toll on
those who are among the worst positioned to weather the storm, a new AARP report says. Older African Americans and Hispanics are the hardest hit.

“The Great Recession has been brutal for many older Americans,” said Debra Whitman, AARP’s policy chief. “This shows that home ownership doesn’t guarantee financial
security later in life.”

Even working two jobs hasn’t been enough to allow Jewel Lewis-Hall, 57, to make her monthly mortgage payments on time.

Her husband has made little money since being laid off from his job at a farmer’s market, and Lewis-Hall said her salary as a school cook falls short of what she needs to make
the payments on her home in Washington.

Lewis-Hall and her husband have been making their payments late for about a year, but panic didn’t set in until recently, when the word “foreclosure” showed up in a letter from the bank.

“You’re used to living a certain way, but one thing leads to another,” Lewis-Hall said. “It’s not like I have a new car or anything. I’m driving one from 1991.”

According to AARP:

• About 600,000 people who are 50 years or older are in foreclosure.

• About 625,000 in the same age group are at least three months behind on their mortgages.

• About 3.5 million — 16 percent of older homeowners — are underwater, meaning their home values
have gone down and they now owe more than
their homes are worth.

AARP said that over the past five years, the proportion
of loans held by older Americans that are
seriously delinquent jumped by more than 450 percent.

Homeowners who are younger than 50 have a
higher rate of serious delinquency than their older
counterparts.

But the rate is increasing at a faster pace for older
Americans than for younger ones, according to
AARP’s analysis of more than 17 million mortgages.

Americans who are 50 or older are hard-pressed
to recover from the collapse of the housing market
that started in 2006 and was compounded by the
recession that started in 2007.

Eight in 10 of them own homes, but many live on
fixed incomes, have little savings or have already
burned through much of their retirement savings.

They also have fewer working years left to build
back what they may have lost.

And those who are forced to re-enter the workforce
often find they can’t command the same salary
that they did in the past.

Older minorities are facing foreclosure rates that
are almost double those faced by white borrowers of
the same age, mirroring a nationwide trend seen in
other age groups as well.

Among older African Americans, 3.5 percent were
in foreclosure at the end of 2011, and the rate was
3.9 percent for Hispanics. Just 1.9 percent of white
homeowners were in foreclosure.

The situation is likely to get worse before it gets
better, AARP officials predicted, because of a housing
market that is recovering at a snail’s pace.

“This crisis is far from over,” Whitman said. “We
need to think about more creative solutions now that
we have this data.”
 

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