The Foreclosure Maze: A Comparative Analysis of Black & White Women Seeking Community-Based Mortgage Assistance

Thursday, January 15, 2015: 4:00 PM
Preservation Hall Studio 10, Second Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Amy Castro Baker, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Laramie, WY
Background: Although the market show signs of recovery, the foreclosure crisis is far from over. By the end of 2014, 1 out of 5 US homeowners are projected to be in default. At the peak of the housing crisis, single female homeowners were 32% more likely to receive a risky mortgage than their similarly situated male peers. Single Black women were 259 times more likely to possess a risky loan than a White man with the same financial profile. Despite these trends, few have applied a gender or social work lens to mortgage markets and the foreclosure crisis. The aim of this exploratory research was to add to the thin knowledge base regarding women’s experiences with mortgage lending and foreclosure. The primary research question was, “What are women’s experiences with foreclosure?”

Methods: A purposive sample of 30 single female homeowners in foreclosure were recruited from two community-based agencies in a large northeastern city (n=15 Black; n=15 White). In-depth, semi-structured interviewing was employed to build knowledge about single women’s experiences with seeking a loan, buying a home, entering default and attempting to stall foreclosure.  Interviews were 1.5-3 hrs. long, digitally recorded, professionally transcribed and analyzed within Dedoose. Thematic analysis, informed by grounded theory, was used to pinpoint and analyze patterns within the data at the semantic level. Thematic collation took place with the data set as a whole (within group), as well as comparatively by race (between groups). 

Results: As female homeowners experienced mortgage strain they all negotiated with their lenders, increased work, employed strict household budgeting and sought aid from social service organizations to offset mortgage costs. Workers responded with poorly contextualized treatment plans that appeared to be designed for renters or women experiencing chronic homelessness, not homeowners. When the sample was divided by race, 2 distinct differences emerged in the help-seeking process. First, Black homeowners immediately recognized the severity of their situation and proactively sought aid, while White homeowners were comparatively slower to contact housing agencies.  Second, Black homeowners described experiences with fringe financial practices and market discrimination throughout the lifespan. In contrast, White homeowner experiences with fringe finance were solely concentrated around their mortgage default. 

Implications: Despite variations in their understanding of market risk and the timelines White and Black homeowners operated on, neither appeared to meaningfully alter the onset of default. This suggests the need for structural interventions that move beyond financial literacy and strict household budgeting, as well as social work practicioners adept at incorporating financial matters into client assessment.