Foreclosures Impact One in 10 Children in this Country Today, Report Shows

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A report authored by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institute titled, “The Ongoing Impact of Foreclosures on Children,”  has pointed out, among other things, that foreclosures in this country now directly affect one in ten children.  According to the author of the report…

“Children are the often invisible victims of the foreclosure crisis.”

Oh, like hell they are.  There is absolutely nothing “invisible” about the children that have become victims of the foreclosure crisis.  I’ve seen them in my minds eye every day since 2008, and anyone who hasn’t either simply isn’t thinking or is unconscionably heartless as to be sociopathic.  Invisible victims my fat ass… those in power in this country that have stood idly by and allowed this crisis to metastasize throughout our society for the last five years don’t now get to claim they didn’t see the children that were in the way of their political expediency, overwhelming incompetence and stunning insensitivity.

Now, in fairness, when the report uses the word “invisible,” to describe the children, it seems to be referring to mortgage records not including specifically how many children reside in owner occupied homes, and it also bemoans the fact that “it’s even harder to estimate the number of children in rental properties.”

So, let me be perhaps the first to say that I could give a rat’s oreille droite, as they might say in France, about the calculations used to nail down such numbers.  Ask an actuary at any insurance company and whatever he or she says is good by me.

I mean, since we’re talking about doing essentially irreparable damage to untold millions of our nation’s children… the same children upon which our country’s future depends, I might add… I don’t rightly care whether we damage 8 million or 18 million.  In fact, while we’re sacrificing the future of America’s little munchkins, I think we might as well just save all the counting and agree to just round up the damage to the nearest million.  Makes more sense, don’t you think?  It’s not like we’re electing a president… we’re just destroying the lives of those members of our society too young to vote anyway.

Julia goes on to say…

“Foreclosure affects not just the homeowner or landlord, but also the children living in the foreclosed properties.”

And the pets too, Julia, don’t forget about the pets.

According to the report, “of the 8 million children affected, 2.3 million have already lost their homes.  Three million more children are at serious risk of losing their homes in the near future, and an additional 3 million have been evicted, or may face eviction, from rental properties that undergo foreclosures.”

In a Press Release issued by First Focus, a self-described “bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions,” the report “indicates” that the health and education of children are often harmed by foreclosures.  The release goes on to say that…

Families that receive foreclosure notices are considerably more likely than other families to move, which staggers academic achievement. These families are also under financial and psychological stress, which affects the way parents interact with their children, sometimes leading to harsher and less supportive parenting. Additionally, foreclosures and housing instability is shown to have a negative impact on physical and mental health.

The report details specifically the effects of mid-year school disruptions. It found that for every forced move, a child’s reading and math scores dropped by as much as if he or she had missed a month of school.


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And First Focus president Bruce Lesley adds…

“Housing disruptions due to foreclosure are just as traumatic for kids as losing their homes to a tornado or hurricane— except this disaster will hit one in ten children. Being forced from home affects children’s health, interrupts development, and hurts their chances of success in school.”

Apparently, in 2008, the report’s author estimated that there were two million children in owner-occupied homes that would be immediately affected by the foreclosure crisis, and specifically on foreclosures of subprime loans made in 2005 – 2006, which seems pretty darn specific considering the report’s earlier claim that mortgage data is lacking in specificity related to the number of children present in affected homes.

No matter, the more important conclusion reached by the report is that, “Nearly four years later, the problem shows no signs of abating.”  And isn’t that just a lovely thought that made me throw up in my mouth a little when I read it.  That’s a description that makes the foreclosures sound like foul weather and we’re just waiting for it to abate.  Until it does, one might suppose, just remember to bring your umbrella.

Why is it that almost no one ever views the foreclosure crisis as being something we have to abate… it won’t just stop all by itself.  Or, since admittedly forever is a long, long time… as my mother used to say… let’s just say that it won’t stop on it’s own for a long, long time.

If we want it to stop, we have to stop waiting for it to stop… and do something to stop it.  (And if you followed that sentence and bumped your head on something as a result, I do apologize.)

The report shows that the number of children being negatively affected by foreclosures today has increased significantly over the author’s 2008 estimates… almost by a third.  So that means that since we implemented federal programs like HAMP and state programs in the thirty-odd hardest hit states, among others… we’ve managed to only increase the damage to about three million kids.

I don’t know why, but that seems like under-performing considering the sort of crackerjack work we’ve been doing on stopping foreclosures in this country.  I don’t see why, with a little more initiative we couldn’t expect to be damaging as many as a million or two more by now, and perhaps we have, the inadequacies of the data and all.  Even the report admits that it is likely understating the numbers for a variety of reasons, including not accounting for loans considered seriously delinquent and not accounting for the possibility that foreclosure occur more frequently in families with more children.

According to the report, there are at least four different “pathways,” through which foreclosure can have a deleterious impact on children.

1. Children who move more frequently than others do less well in school (which I think is an understatement of the problem we’re talking about here.)

2. Homeowners in foreclosure are under a lot of financial and psychological stress and not surprisingly research has shown that the situation can affect how parents interact with each other and their children… they can be harsher and less supportive and this can lead to negative behaviors on the part of children and make it harder for them to interact with their friends and in school.

3. Housing instability can have a negative impact on physical as well as mental health and studies have shown higher rates of visits to emergency rooms and hospitals in ZIP codes with the highest foreclosure rates.  The same studies have also shown that housing instability leads people to postpone getting necessary health care services and medications.

4. Because foreclosures are often concentrated in certain neighborhoods, children living in or near foreclosed homes obviously suffer the consequences of living in neighborhoods with more vacant houses, which means “higher crime rates, lower social cohesion, and a lower tax base.”

And none of that (and then some) should be the least bit surprising to anyone paying attention or thinking about the problems associated with and inherent to the foreclosure crisis.

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Okay, before I say anything else about this, please allow me to apologize…

I know that from the very first few words I wrote in this article I’ve been… well, snarky and maybe some would even say too harsh or critical about the study and its author… and I want to apologize for that.  It’s not that I don’t see the study as being critically important and having profound implications that I might even describe as being deadly serious.

But, I do hate the fact that such a study is even necessary and anyone who would read it and find it to contain any real “news,” should hang his or head in shame for not having previously considered the impact of what’s been allowed to happen this country since 2008. I hate the fact that the report has to state the obvious… that it’s our nation’s children that are the unprotected and innocent victims of foreclosure.

Look, in 2009, the Obama Administration and our federal government made a conscious decision to head down a path to dealing with the foreclosure crisis that they knew could not possibly represent any sort of real and comprehensive solution.  They knew, based on their plans and programs, that millions of foreclosures were inevitable.  They knew that there would be nothing in place to prevent that from being the case, that at best, programs like HAMP would result in delaying foreclosures… it would only prevent a relative few.

And to-date, while we’ve seen several million loans modified, either through HAMP or in-house modifications, we’ve also seen unacceptable re-default rates and more than six million homes lost to foreclosure.

I don’t need to conduct a study or even go find a calculator to figure out that such numbers mean that something well in excess of 10 million children have been directly impacted by the crisis, and I don’t even know how many more already indirectly affected.

I’m a parent and my love for and dedication to my daughter is literally boundless… without limit.  From the moment she was born, I’ve done everything I’ve done to be a hero in her eyes.  That doesn’t make me unique or even special… it only makes me a father.

Although I might try, and perhaps as a writer be able to come close, I can’t even imagine how I would have felt were I to have faced having to tell her that she would have to leave her home… her bedroom… when she was a little girl.  Just the thought could bring me to tears, and I’m not sure it’s something from which I would have ever fully recovered.  Intellectually, I might have known that I was only one of the millions being swept under by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but emotionally I would have felt like I was failing her… the person in my life I would never want to fail.

As a father my job as she was growing up was to protect her from the unfairness of the outside world and to make her know that she was very much unconditionally loved and absolutely safe in her home.  And to have had to tell her that I was unable to protect her… unable to solve something that was causing her to feel afraid… that was harming her… would have damaged both her and me in ways that are incalculable.

How could she ever feel as safe as she once did, knowing that I couldn’t protect her from some things… that the world was a place where she could find herself alone… that even her father… her hero… couldn’t make her safe from some things.  These are realizations that we all come to in our lives, but I think that the children that are forced to learn some of life’s lessons too early are in some ways deprived of a part of their childhoods and irreparably damaged, albeit to varying degree, as a result.

Of course, few things in life are or need to be irrevocable and loving, caring and thoughtful parenting can fix or at least make better almost everything the world can hand out.  And no maxim is more true than the one that speaks of time’s capacity to heal all wounds.  I’ve seen survivors of the Nazi death camps living entirely joyous lives, and the children of Darfur growing up every bit as happy as my own daughter.  As human beings we are nothing if not resilient, I do understand.

I’ve suggested to many homeowners that have young children and losing homes to rent a home with a pool… because kids don’t know or care about owning or renting… but you can die believing that they all know if they have a pool… or live by a lake… or a park… or anywhere that’s new and fun and makes their parents happy and them knowing they are loved.

I’ll never forget a call I received one summer from a single mom who had lost her home earlier that year and had taken my advice to rent a home with a pool.  She was calling me on her daughter’s birthday to thank me… and I could hear the kids all splashing around, laughing and screaming as they played in that pool during the birthday party that was underway.  And I have no problem admitting that I had tears in my eyes when we hung up.

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It’s all on us…

All of that being said, my point is that we as a nation have allowed our inadequate response to the foreclosure crisis and we have no right to pretend that we didn’t know of or consider the damage our inaction would cause… to children… to the elderly… to our society… to us all.

Reading Julia Isaacs’ report on how foreclosures are harming children in some ways made me angry that there would be some that, upon reading it, would feign surprise, acting as if the report’s conclusions were unexpected and even the equivalent of breaking news.  And that’s just utter and complete nonsense.

It’s like the coffins that come home from Afghanistan and Iraq that can’t be shown on television so that perhaps out of sight we can hope they remain out of our collective mind.  If we saw them, however, maybe we wouldn’t so easily remain at war.  Hiding from reality doesn’t change it.  As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

So let’s not allow our elected representatives in this country to pretend they didn’t or don’t know about the impact of the decisions they’ve made.  It’s been six years since the foreclosure crisis began in earnest… we own what’s happened and continues to happen to untold millions of Americans.  Maybe in 2009 we could have claimed to be overcome by something akin to a tsunami in the Pacific, but it’s 2013… and it’s on us.

Reporting recommendations…

In an addendum to the report, First Focus offered recommendations in terms of changes to policy and programs that would provide solutions to the damage caused by the foreclosure crisis.   And in my opinion, it’s not that the list of ideas was in any way bad, it’s more that it ignores some of the obvious answers… perhaps because they are considered politically impossible… answers like a more fair and transparent loan modification process.  Included are such things as…

  • Improving access to refinancing.
  • Fast-tracking of the National Mortgage Settlement payouts and reforms.
  • Make the tenant protections permanent.
  • Programs to help families find new homes and that make rental housing more affordable.
  • The funding and implementation of numerous programs designed to help parents and children facing housing instability and homelessness.

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Check please…

What will be the ultimate cost to this country as a result of the ten million of more foreclosures we’ve signed up to allow?  What will be the cost to our economy in the future were we able to deduct for the unquantifiable damage being done to the millions of our nation’s children who have and will face the debilitating impact of foreclosure as the Brookings’ report undeniably presents?

I don’t know… and no one could, but I would have no trouble believing that the tab will be in the hundreds of billions and perhaps end up in the trillions.  I had once hoped that I could be a small part of making this country understand the implications of our decisions related to the foreclosure crisis, both today and tomorrow.  I no longer think I will ever succeed in accomplishing that to any meaningful degree, but maybe reports such as this one and the other it may spawn will carry that torch to where it needs to go.

And so, if for no other reason, for that potential alone, I do sincerely appreciate and salute the work done by Julia Isaacs for the Brookings Institute in this report, and I pray it finds it’s way to where it can make a much needed difference in how we address foreclosures in the years ahead.

Mandelman out.



A copy of Julia Isaacs’ report for the Brookings Institute, “The Ongoing Impact of Foreclosures on Children,” is found below.  I hope you’ll not only read it, but that you’ll take action and forward it to your elected representatives and others.  Because I believe the children are our future… can I get an Amen to that?

The Ongoing Impact of Foreclosures on Children by Martin Andelman

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