Leave Octogenarians at Home – Stop Evictions after 80.
I think many people are like me in the sense that they like to think of this country as being a better place to live than most. When I was a young boy, I was taught that the U.S.A. was the best country in the whole world by far… and for most of my life I truly believed it.
Then I watched the Vietnam War on television, followed by Nixon’s Follies and even though for a long time after that, although I was disillusioned, I still thought most people in government were there for the right reasons. But after spending the last six years watching my government respond to the worst economic meltdown this country’s seen in 70 years, my view of what our government is really all about has changed for good… but not for the better.
It’s not just that our government’s response to the financial and foreclosure crises has been largely ineffective and incompetent… a certain amount of that was to be expected. It’s more that the response has continued to consistently be both obtuse and uncaring.
The crisis showed clearly that our government and, more so, politicians themselves aren’t here for the people in this country as much as they’re in it for themselves… and for the money that floods into Washington today from special interests, of course.
So, just when I thought my opinion of government couldn’t be significantly worsened, over the last few weeks I’ve learned that we’re a country that actually doesn’t care what happens to people who are in their 80s and run into financial difficulties. In fact… and as incredible as it may seem, WE EVICT THEM… we send out the sheriff and lock them out just like we would if they were any other age.
IN THIS COUNTRY, WE EVICT 89 YEAR OLDS?
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been contacted by three separate octogenarians or their family members asking if I could help them prevent eviction after a foreclosure. One was 89, one 87 and the last 85. The 89 year-old had suffered both a stroke and heart attack during the last five years or so, has a full-time nurse at home, and even so… she was scheduled to be evicted in 72 hours when I got the call from her son asking if I could help.
The good news is that luckily, I was able to prevent all three elderly homeowners from being locked out of their homes, but I’m not writing this because I want to brag or get a pat on the back. I know that I did a good thing and I’m glad that I was here and able to help stop the evictions from taking place. But, what if I wasn’t here? What then?
The answer is unquestionably that the evictions would have proceeded and three elderly women would have been forced to leave the homes they’ve lived in for decades… in one case, since 1958. One woman’s son, his first name is Nick, has been fighting for his mother to be able to remain in her home for the last five years. Before calling me, he has called more people than he can count to no avail, and this wasn’t the first time I had to step in to stop the clock.
Another woman is now 87 and I’ve been stopping her from being evicted for at least the last three years now, I couldn’t even remember how long its been going on for sure until I found some notes I’d written when she first contacted me that showed her age as 84. I guess at this point I feel like we’re growing old together.
Sometimes it can take a few calls and emails back and forth over a couple days, but I’ve learned that bankers and even lawyers are people too, believe it or not they don’t like the idea of evicting an octogenarian any more than I do.
In fact, a couple of weeks ago, when I called a law firm that was about to evict one of my octogenarians, the woman I was connected to recognized my name, and when I told her that I was in contact with the bank and that they should expect to hear that the eviction is to be cancelled she replied, “Yeah, I had a feeling that you’d be calling as soon as I saw this eviction order come in.”
She knew that I’d be calling? So, she knew that evicting an 89 year-old woman was wrong. She knew it should be stopped. I’m sure most everyone who saw what was happening thought the same thing… but yet no one had done anything to stop it. She knew I’d be calling to say that it was being stopped?
If that’s the case, then I shouldn’t need to call at all. Lot’s of people knew it was happening and lot’s of people could have stopped it… so why did it need me? I didn’t use any magic words when I called the bank executive who stopped the eviction. I just let him know it was happening… suggested that it needed to be stopped… and he agreed and stopped it.
How about next time, someone else make the call?
So, as I said, the reason I’m writing this isn’t to tell people how great I am to have accomplished such a laudable goal. I’ve been doing this for six years now and if that’s what I wanted to do, I certainly could have done it many times before now. But, this isn’t a service I offer… I’m not a lawyer or anything like that… and I’ve never charged any of these homeowners a nickel for my help.
I’m writing now because these last three emergencies have left me shaken. What if I hadn’t been here to receive their calls? It’s not at all hard to imagine, I live in constant fear that I will drop a ball and something bad will happen as a result. But evicting an 89 year-old isn’t just “bad,” it’s horrific and I don’t think I could get over being responsible for it happening.
I asked Nick today what he would have done and he said there was no one left to call… I was it. And instead of that making me feel important and needed, it left my stomach in knots. How can I be the only person to call to prevent an 89 year-old from being locked out of their home?
That’s not even fair… I write a blog about the foreclosure crisis and sure, I’ve been able to help quite a few homeowners in various ways over the years, but I can’t be on call forever… in fact, I can’t believe I’ve been here and able to help as long as I have.
When I first started writing about this mess in 2008, I thought I’d do it for a year. Surely the government would get its act together by then. Then it was two, however, and with the situation only having worsened, it became three and then four… and I can’t even remember what went on in 2013, and truth be told, I barely survived 2014.
And with all of that being said, and even with the ability of banks to modify loans and seek alternatives to foreclosure having improved to some degree when compared with the earlier years, this remains a country where a million homes get foreclosed on every year, and hundreds of thousands are evicted.
There are roughly 10 million people in this country over 65 that still have mortgages, and as a result retirement has become a sort of Russian Roulette that you play with your home. The game is played by hoping that your income doesn’t drop unexpectedly… and that you remain either extraordinarily healthy or die before you are forced to sell your home or lose it to foreclosure. Doesn’t that sound fun?
I hate the idea that I live in a country where we evict people over 80 years of age without it even being considered newsworthy, let alone politically important. No one talks about it, least of all the older people to whom it happens. They’re ashamed, so they don’t tell anyone, in some cases not even their kids or family members.
This country is great… as long as you’re doing well financially… but should you find yourself short, then you’re widely seen as someone who failed to plan properly… someone who’s at fault and therefore deserving of whatever happens.
That’s not true, do you realize that? People don’t file bankruptcy because they went on a spending spree, at least not in the vast majority of cases. What happens is that as we get older, and assuming we live long enough, at some point our income drops unexpectedly while our expenses rise, also unexpectedly. And when this happens to someone in their 40s, 50s or 60s it’s bad enough, but they can still try to recover by working harder or more. But when it happens to someone in their 70s or 80s, going back to work often just isn’t an option.
I recently spoke with a banker who told me that she had helped an 80 year-old man to refinance his home, and I responded that I think that should be illegal. She said she wasn’t allowed to discriminate based on age, as if that’s what I was suggesting.
So, we’ve got bankers who are willing to put 80 year-olds into traditional 30-year loans, and then when something happens and someone’s income falls or expenses rise for whatever the reason… which is a CERTAINTY in many cases… they want to be able to take the home back… AND THAT’S JUST SOME SORT OF SICK GAME, if you want my opinion.
Either don’t make the loan to someone that is clearly too old to be able to recover from a financial hardship or, when the borrower can’t make the payments at 80-something years of age, you have to facilitate some sort of soft landing by helping them get into something more affordable… or wait until the person’s death to reclaim the property. But under no circumstances are you allowed to put an octogenarian out on the street simply because he or she became unable to make the payments.
One of the older homeowners who I’ve protected from foreclosure for several years now, has a $375,000 mortgage, or at least that was her approximate balance three years ago when I first met her over the phone. Her monthly income today is $700 a month, which comes from Social Security. The thing is, that’s the same amount of income that she was receiving each month from Social Security when she was approved for that 30-year loan… in fact, $225,000 of the loan was a cash-out refinance.
Are you telling me that the bank who made that loan couldn’t see the day coming when she wouldn’t be able to make her monthly payments anymore? Nonsense… I could have done that math without scratch paper or a calculator.
That bank could have recommended that she get a reverse mortgage, by the way. That would have made all the sense in the world, but it’s not what happened. She had no idea what a reverse mortgage was or how it worked, and chances are, neither did her predatory loan officer or mortgage broker.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised…
Of course, I realize that over the years our government has done many inane and breathtakingly offensive things to American citizens as a matter of law, policy or resulting from flagrant corruption. Some of the things we’ve done in the past are so embarrassing or shameful that it’s hard to believe they happened on this planet, let alone in this country.
Back in 1857, our Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Roger Taney inexplicably ruled that an African American slave, Dred Scott, was to be considered “property,” just as one would consider a mule. And forty years later, our high court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the doctrine, “separate but equal,” and that stunningly stupid decision remained a part of US law for almost 100 years… until 1954.
Those are the sort of historical facts that make you want to cringe, right? I mean, were our leaders back then so ignorant and unfeeling that they couldn’t figure out that slavery, segregation and the oppression of other human beings were way beyond wrong… way beyond cruel… to the point of being inhuman?
We actually had a Chief Justice of our Supreme Court that ruled that a human being had the same rights as a mule and could be forced into slavery and treated as property because of variances in skin pigmentation?
We took a couple hundred years to figure out that slavery and discrimination were wrong, while we went about teaching our children The Golden Rule and going to church on Sunday morning? We carved ‘The Ten Commandments’ into every courtroom sculpture in the country, while we sanctioned the killing and torture of people of color because they were caught trying to learn to read?
Harvard College was founded in 1636. Yale’s been around since 1701, William and Mary since 1693, Princeton since 1746. What exactly were they studying at those places 150 years ago? Alchemy? The proper way to burn a witch?
It’s incredible that a hundred or so years ago our leaders in terms of intellect were basically only a couple of clicks past the cavemen, willing to enslave other human beings like the Pharaohs of Egypt did 10,000 years ago?
In January of 1896, the American Federation of Labor set up the Actors’ National Protective Union. So, that means that we knew enough back then to protect actors by unionizing them… way before television and movies were around, by the way… but we couldn’t figure out that we needed to offer protections to all Americans and not just those whose skin color is the right shade of beige.
We recognized the need to protect actors in 1896 with collective bargaining, but for actors with darker skin we were more concerned with having the right to tell them to get the heck away from the “white’s only” water fountain? And we couldn’t think clearly enough to change that obvious injustice until the 1950s?
Then, during World War II, we put Japanese Americans into “internment camps,” but weren’t the least bit concerned with German Americans… and that’s not just racially obtuse, it’s also an appalling example of just how dangerous a positively purblind government can be at times when vision is most acutely needed.
Yeah, we’re pretty darn wonderful.
We think of Adolf Hitler as an unimaginable monster, the polar opposite of any U.S. president. But, did you know that Teddy Roosevelt, before he became our 26th president, once got up on stage in front of an audience brandishing a bag full of Native American severed penises. And Teddy was a Harvard graduate… one of our best and brightest who later became the first American to be awarded The Nobel Prize for peace?
I wonder if Teddy would have been okay with throwing an 89 year-old woman out of her home, and I’m guessing he would have handled that question the same way our government is handling it today… by ignoring the question.
But that was a long time ago…
Of course, those examples are from long enough ago that we tend to disconnect ourselves from such behavior, almost as if they were the acts of some other country’s history and not our own… as if we’ve become so much smarter today that we deserve to forget whatever happened back then.
But, the thing is that there’s abundant evidence that we’re not… smarter, I mean. And neither is there any indication that we’re a whole lot more compassionate, caring, rational, or even enlightened. I realize that we’re long since done debating things like whether slavery is right or wrong, thank God, but over the last few years, I’ve been shocked to learn that we’re still capable of doing the wrong thing and mistreating our citizens in all sorts of ways.
Cutting spending on federal food assistance programs?
Just last year, I saw an example of how badly we can treat our fellow citizens when House Republicans led a charge to cut spending on this country’s $79.8 billion food stamp assistance program. The rationalization used was that there’s rampant fraud happening, so we have to cut back on the program’s costs. I couldn’t even watch the debate on C-Span without becoming literally sick to my stomach, no pun intended.
First of all, no one should go hungry in this country… ever. This is the U.S.A… not Somalia or Zimbabwe. There’s no reason for hunger to exist here. We may not have fixed everything about living in this country, but just as we don’t have to evict an 89 year-old, we can fix that.
Now, you need to know that the MOST one person can receive in food stamps assistance each month is $194, which is $6.46 per day, or $2.15 per meal, assuming three meals a day. At the other end of the household scale, if you have a family of eight, the maximum is $1169 a month… which is only $4.86 per person, per day… or $1.62 per meal, also assuming three meals a day.
I could not live on any of those amounts, and the thought of having to feed children on that sort of budget makes me want to weep for those forced to do so. And although I abhor violence and have never been a violent criminal, were I forced into that situation for more than a month or two, I can easily see how I could become a very dangerous person. If your purse or wallet had cash in it, it’s quite possible that you wouldn’t want to bump into me in a dark alley.
And if someone is defrauding that program, how much could they possibly be reaping as a result? Instead of getting $4.86 a day, did someone cheat and get an extra fiver? Or, since food stamps are not cash, is the idea that someone found a way to use their monthly pittance to buy a six-pack of beer or, God forbid, a pack of Marlboros what gets your goat?
Frankly, to my way of thinking, if someone can figure out how to turn $5 a day for food into $10 without robbing someone at gunpoint, all I can say is thank God and good for them. And I could care less what they spend it on… I’m not here to tell someone struggling to survive not to smoke.
In fact, how about we let everyone who qualifies for food stamps “steal” an extra dollar or two and maybe we wouldn’t have 40 or so million elementary school age children that are living at or below the poverty line going to bed hungry. Yes, I’m sure it might mean that some folks will get a few bucks they don’t deserve, but I’m sure that we can figure out how to keep that sort of thing to a minimum, right?
Las Vegas casinos have figured out how to catch people that are doing math in their heads by counting cards at the blackjack table, so if we really can’t figure out how to stop food stamp fraud, then perhaps we should call the people who run Caesars Palace.
Food stamp fraud, by the way, according to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service occurs when benefits are exchanged for cash. They call it “trafficking” and it is against the law. It also happens when someone lies on an application to get benefits or in an attempt to get more benefits than they are supposed to receive.
In 2012, over 100 analysts and investigators reviewed over 15,000 stores and conducted nearly 4,500 undercover investigations, and the most recent data available shows that in 2006-08, the cost of such fraud was about ONE CENT on every dollar spent… and that’s down from 4¢ on the dollar in 1993.
In addition, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducts criminal investigations and prosecutes traffickers. In 2012, such investigations reportedly led to 342 convictions, including some obviously small number of multi-year prison sentences in the most serious cases… and supposedly there was $57.7 million saved as a result.
But that’s not what the impetus to cut spending on assistance is about…
Cutting the amounts we spend on food stamps isn’t about the food or even the supposed fraud. According to the Government Accountability Office, Medicare and Medicaid, for example, lose 10 percent annually to fraud, but no one is suggesting that those programs reduce their spending as a result. So, why are some so insistent that the relatively tiny food stamps program, where fraud is only ONE PERCENT, face a budget cut?
It’s simply because politicians want to fire up their constituents and there’s no better way to do so than by telling them that there are people getting away with something and they’re going to stop it. As if there are people who are not working because they’re living off of your tax dollars and hard work.
Who cares if cutting food stamps causes severe harm to the lowest income families in our society… the people that need the help the most and are least able to make their voices heard? Who cares if someone barely able to feed their family gets even less?
The answer is that we should all care… a lot. No family should be experiencing food insecurity in this country, and when people are, it is harming us all. And likewise, we should all care that people in their 80s can be evicted because they endured a financial hardship that made it impossible for them to make their payments anymore.
We should care because it can happen to anyone… at anytime. No one has to be at fault, because no one can truly plan to be able to make it for decades without income. It really doesn’t matter how much you saved… if things go badly, anyone can find themselves in trouble and unable to recover without help. And help is not easy to find when you don’t have the money.
How do you measure a country’s greatness?
I think you measure how great a country is by the way it treats it’s children… it’s elderly citizens… it’s poor… and it’s minorities, because those are the individuals who can’t just pick themselves up by their bootstraps when life sends them curveballs unexpectedly. Those are the members of a society that need government to help them maintain a certain standard of living, lest they increasingly fill the streets and shelters.
If we were still living with racial segregation or slavery in this country, or if we didn’t have child labor laws to protect children from being forced to work 100 hour weeks in sweatshops and steel mills… would we ever have been considered a “great” country?
I think that’s an easy question to answer… no, we would not. You can’t be “great” when certain citizens have no rights… or aren’t allowed to vote… or can’t sit at a lunch counter or at the front of the bus.
And likewise, you can’t be great when millions of young children don’t have enough to eat each day… or if your elderly population lives each day fearful that their home will be taken from them because they got sick or were injured… or lost a job or a spouse unexpectedly.
I want so badly for this country to be “great” again, but it’s going in the wrong direction when I’m the only person that could be found to help stop an 89 year-old from ending up on the streets. Preventing that shouldn’t require anyone’s help because it should never happen in the first place. Not here, not now… not ever.
Isn’t it ironic that this was never a country where debtors were imprisoned for not paying their debts. Instead this was a country where someone unable to pay a debts could get the protection of the bankruptcy courts and have their debts reduced or eliminated in order to start fresh when starting again.
So, while we have always thought that putting someone in jail due to their inability to repay a given debt is wrong, apparently we’re okay with throwing octogenarians with nowhere to go out of their homes because they can’t make their mortgage payments. We won’t throw them in jail, but we’ll render them homeless at 89 years-old without giving it a second thought… even though I don’t think anyone in this country thinks doing so is okay, and certainly no one I know at Bank of America or Ocwen does either.
And yet it continues… three times in the last month I was able to stop it from happening, but how many couldn’t find a way? Even one is too many, if you really want to make this country great again. Great countries treasure and feed their children… and they revere and protect their elderly populations, and it both saddens and scares me that I see no evidence that this country is committed to doing either.
So, I’ll keep trying my best to help those in need as long as I can, because frankly I don’t know how to not care or knowingly turn my back on someone in need… and because I don’t know who else to tell people to call. As always, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Considering that it’s been six years since the financial and foreclosure crises began… that’s absolutely ridiculous. If you agree… how about sending a short message to your elected representatives that says something like:
LEAVE OCTOGENARIANS AT HOME… STOP EVICTIONS OF THOSE OVER 80.
Will it work? I don’t know, but I know it won’t if you don’t.