The Real Story: Attack of the Predatory Lenders on Single Women Homeowners

10 years ago

I am two months behind on everything in my life lately, except for my period. (Thank goodness for that!) On a practical level, this means that only last night did I begin reading my June 28 copy of Time Out New York. I probably would not have bothered at all except that the cover had a picture of a giant woman sort of rampaging on a City street a la those old sci fi movies, except that this giantess was modern and thus carrying an appropriately-sized, exceptionally large cell phone. The eye rolling that resulted from the headline, “Attack of the Single Women!: They’re taking over the city – but do they want it? 50 soloists peak out,” was so severe it is amazing that I didn’t wind up with bloodshot peepers.

In February 2007, National Geographic reported that there are 185,000 more single women than men in the New York metro area. (Conversely, the West Coast has significantly more single men than women.) TimeOut New York decided to follow up on it by interviewing single women. (It seems that I am not the only one behind in following up on trends and news.) Funky Brown Chick, who has an utterly hilarious “blog with rants, raves and other stuff about my life and my dates in New York City,” summarized it best:

It’s a great article. At the same time, I kind of get the impression that TONY was surprised to discover that most of the women that they interviewed were [and I quote], “remarkably okay with being single.” Interesting choice of words. It’s hard to imagine reading the same sentence about married men and women: “The people we talked to were remarkably okay with being married.”

Great! So women are just as happy being single as they are married. And what better proof is there than the trend in recent years for single women to buy homes? This deluge of sales led the National Association of Realtors put together a Field Guide to Women Homebuyers. (You know, since women are so different from other – i.e. “normal” - homebuyers, agents need to learn new ways to deal with their new clients and all that.) They also posted the following statistics on women and homeownership:

-The single female segment of the homebuyer population accounted for 18% of all homebuyers in 2004.

-Single women purchased approximately one in five homes in 2003, while more than one in ten were purchased by single men.

-More women (15.5 million) than men (11.8 million) lived alone. Among these, women were more likely than men to own their homes (56% vs. 47%).

-About one-quarter of the nation's nearly eight million single mothers spend more than half of their incomes on housing, compared with one-tenth of households headed by single fathers.

-Over the time period of 1994-2002, the number of unmarried females owning homes climbed from 13.9 million to 17.5 million.

While it is great that women are aggressively pursuing that most American aspect of the American Dream, some of these statistics are alarming, like the fact that single mothers are far more likely to spend over half of their income on housing costs than single dads. I’m fairly certain this is not because they are buying McMansions, but suffering from the male-female earnings gap and the lack of affordable housing options that exist in many communities. These issues are put into uncomfortable context by Jessica Beganski, a real estate agent in Connecticut who writes the blog Real Real Estate in Connecticut.

All of this got me thinking, though, about the mortgage and foreclosure crisis going on in the US. Michelle Rodriguez at the MoneyWi$eWomen blog wrote that interest rate increases on adjustable-rate loans, “will force some borrowers to pay up to 150% more per month resulting in an estimated 167,000 new families entering foreclosure every 3 months.” You can look at the front page of your local newspaper every morning these days and see how this is being played out in your neighborhood, or maybe you even know firsthand what this disaster is like.

Who is likely to be a prime candidate for foreclosure? Anyone who has weak credit, currently spends over 50% of their income on their housing, and who is facing a 150% increase in mortgage payments. That’s right: single women, our fastest growing segment of new homeowners. As Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization committed to building an America that achieves its highest democratic ideals, noted:

The new subprime market opened some doors for homebuyers with damaged credit, but it also paved the way for newly discriminatory and predatory lending practices targeted mainly at minorities, single women, low-income people, and the elderly. The high rate of default and foreclosure associated with predatory home mortgages makes them a dangerous new threat to the economic security of millions of American families.

It seems that more concrete statistics are not available on the rate of foreclosure for households headed by single women, although Demos links to other eye-opening reports from numerous research and advocacy organizations.

What is thus infuriating is that all the alarmist headlines about single women focus on exactly the wrong things, as usual. Is it bad that there are more single women than ever before (which makes no sense, but is what the stories imply)? No. Is it good that unmarried women are buying their own homes, as many headlines gush? It can be. Is it a disaster that so many women have been railroaded into predatory lending? Yes, but where are the headlines about that?

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants

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