Panel Paper: Broken Homes, Broken Dreams: Families In (and out of) Foreclosure

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 10:15 AM
Salon B (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

David Rothstein, Policy Matters Ohio and Cyleste Collins, Case Western Reserve University

To date, what we know about foreclosures has been learned through the analysis of large databases. With sophisticated data techniques, researchers have been able to learn much about failed mortgages. These numbers have been instrumental in launching the public policy response, a response that has seen mixed results on the people actually experiencing foreclosure.

While the quantitative data clearly demonstrate the inequality of these foreclosure rates and specifics of the loans, we know little about how individuals and families experienced these foreclosures,
their housing trajectories since the foreclosure, the meaning of this experience, how their families have fared, and the resources they have turned to in order to cope with their experiences. We also know little
about how this will impact families in the future as so many have lost their life savings, only assets, and their ability to send their children to college using their home as equity.

This study examines what specific effects foreclosures have had on families, the specifics of their experiences, and particularly, the reasons their foreclosures occurred. Though foreclosures have affected
large numbers of people, and have had a disproportionate impact on people of color, we know little about either the specifics of why their loans were originated as they were, nor what factors came into play as the foreclosure process began, gained momentum, and often resulted in the loss of the home. This study provides a context for understanding the “big numbers,” a context given through the eyes of those whose lived experience informs those numbers. The project reveals not only how the foreclosure happened, but also what happened after the foreclosure.
This study explores: (1) What have families’ housing “paths” been? (2) How did families obtain mortgages? (3) What resources, including social networks—did they call upon in dealing with their foreclosure experience? (4) Were any efforts made to prevent the foreclosure? (5) Where did families go once their houses were foreclosed? (6) What has been the meaning and impact of foreclosure and the housing instability for themselves,
their families, and specifically, children? 

This study provides an in-depth exploration of the experiences of more than 40 families who experienced foreclosure. We selected cases to represent three categories: (1) their race, to examine both differential impact of foreclosures as well as how people got their loans; (2) their income level (low vs. high) to examine financial vulnerability; and (3) location of the foreclosed home (city or suburbs) - most new foreclosure filings are occurring in the suburbs. We also interviewed a number of service providers and community members who have worked with families undergoing foreclosure.

Public policies at all levels that impact families in different parts of the foreclosure process include counseling, mediation, and notice for families in foreclosure, loan modification, and rental assistance programs. Recognizing that families’ experiences have been different based on race and income, then determining the best course of action for improving the situation will require not only persuasive data and strong voices, but also innovative policy solutions.