Marie Ginise thought she and her husband, Joseph, had prepared well for retirement. They worked hard to build up their asphalt driveway business, saved a few pennies and eventually moved to Florida from Connecticut to enjoy their golden years.
But when Joseph got sick and died, Marie, 75, realized she could not afford the two-bedroom manufactured home the couple had bought in Deerfield Beach in 2005. Now, instead of enjoying shuffleboard and card games in her senior community, she’s fighting off foreclosure.
“I cry every night when I go to bed,” Ginise says. “You work for something your whole life and then it doesn’t turn out like that at all. I don’t know if I’m here or there.”
Marie Ginese is among the tens of thousands of older Americans who owe more on their homes than they’re worth after the real estate crash — but with less time to make up the financial loss than those who are younger. An AARP report released this summer, Nightmare on Main Street: Older Americans and the Mortgage Market Crisis, revealed that:
• About 3.5 million loans held by people over 50 (or 16 percent of all loans for that group) were underwater as of December 2011.
• The percentage of seriously delinquent mortgage loans increased from 1.1 percent in 2007 to 6 percent in 2011 for people 50 and older, a 456 percent increase.
• The foreclosure rate for people 50 and older also increased, from 0.3 percent in 2007 to 2.9 percent in 2011.
AARP doesn’t include specific figures for Florida, but local senior advocates say they don’t need numbers to know that the real estate crisis has hit the elderly population hard. A RealtyTrac report released earlier this month showed that Florida foreclosure activity in August increased from August 2011 — the seventh year-over-year increase in the last eight months, meaning the state posted the nation’s second highest foreclosure rate.
“It’s like the end of the American Dream for them,” says Gladys Gerson, a supervising attorney for Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida. “They’re very embarrassed that they can’t maintain their own home.”
Max Rothman, president of the Alliance for Aging in Miami, says he is seeing “more older folks calling in about various issues relating to financial insecurities. It’s a symptom of the times.”
Older Americans are struggling to make ends meet on nest eggs earning paltry returns, but the underlying factors of the mortgage crisis began long before The Great Recession. As housing prices soared, older homeowners took home equity loans and second mortgages on their houses, just as their younger counterparts did — but with less time to weather the financial storm if the monthly payment became unaffordable.
“If you’re 65 plus, it’s not like you can take a second job to make the payments,” says Debra Whitman, AARP’s executive vice president for policy. “Your income just doesn’t change much. You have a lot fewer options.”
The AARP report noted that older Americans are carrying more mortgage debt than ever before. This spells trouble because home equity has often been used to help pay for medical bills or supplement fixed incomes later in life.