While younger borrowers pursuing homeownership are confronting tightened access to safe and affordable credit, a growing number of seniors are struggling to maintain homeownership as a result of high levels of debt, particularly mortgage debt. Nonhousing debt among adults aged 50 to 64 has nearly doubled over the past 20 years, and more than 70 percent of homeowners in the same age cohort are still paying off their mortgages, an increase of 12 percent from 1992 to 2010 (see “Pressing Challenges in Housing Finance: Credit Access and Seniors’ Mortgage Debt”).1 Two programs, Florida’s Elderly Mortgage Assistance Program (ELMORE) and the Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative of the nonprofit Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), help senior homeowners experiencing financial difficulties remain in their homes.
Florida is home to a large number of elderly people, many of whom have taken out reverse mortgages and are facing financial hardship and possibly foreclosure following the housing crisis.2 Reverse mortgages allow seniors to draw on the equity in their home to supplement their income. Homeowners typically do not need to pay back the loan until they sell their home, but they still must pay some housing expenses, such as property taxes and homeowners insurance. To help seniors in danger of losing their homes because of past-due property charges, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing), the state’s housing finance agency, launched the ELMORE program in 2013. The program uses a portion of the state’s federal Hardest Hit Funds to provide seniors with up to $50,000 as a 2-year, forgivable loan that can be used to bring property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, flood insurance, and homeowners or condominium association dues current and pay those charges for an additional year in the future.
To be eligible, a senior must have a reverse mortgage with a regulated financial institution and must have suffered a qualifying hardship, such as medical expenses or unemployment, that resulted in nonpayment of charges. In addition, eligible seniors must earn less than 140 percent of the area median income and have the ability to pay property charges in the future. Florida Housing works with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and Area Agencies on Aging to publicize the program. This partnership allows the corporation to reach more seniors and offer those in need in-home assistance to apply for the program, notes Cecka Rose Green, Florida Housing’s communications director.3 As of March 2016, the program has disbursed $14.8 million to help 894 seniors keep their homes.4
ESOP, a HUD-approved housing and financial counseling agency in Cleveland, Ohio, is helping seniors become and remain economically secure as they age in place. Many senior homeowners in Cleveland are underwater or pay more than one-third of their income toward housing. Launched in 2014, ESOP’s Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative works with banking and housing organizations to create services that improve the economic stability of low- and moderate-income seniors. Programs include one-on-one financial counseling and education workshops; benefits checks and referrals, in which ESOP staff help seniors identify and apply for benefits for which they are eligible; and a property tax loan program. The Senior Property Tax Loan program provides loans of up to $6,500 to homeowners 55 and older in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, to pay delinquent property taxes and avoid foreclosure. Seniors participating in the loan program receive a comprehensive financial assessment and must undergo financial coaching at ESOP. As of September 2015, a
little more than a year since its launch, the property tax loan program has provided more than $80,000 to assist 18 seniors.5
Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. 2014. “Housing America’s Older Adults: Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population.”
Florida Housing Finance Corporation. “Florida Elderly Mortgage Assistance (ELMORE) Program Website” (www.floridaelmore.org/). Accessed 30 April 2016; Florida Housing Finance Corporation. 2013. “Florida Housing Launches Hardest-Hit Fund Mortgage Assistance for Elderly Homeowners,” press release, 12 November.
Interview with Cecka Rose Green, 5 April 2016.
Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People. “Senior Financial Empowerment Initiative” (www.esop-cleveland.org/programs-services/senior-financial-empowerment.html). Accessed 30 April 2016; Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People. 2015. “ESOP Annual Report 2015,” 4.