While we can all imagine that going through the foreclosure process can be stressful for homeowners and their families, now there is a study that concludes it may also be stressful for the neighbors. A new study released in the May 12, 2014 edition of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, found that individuals experienced an average 1.71 millimeters of mercury increase in systolic blood pressure for every foreclosure within 100 meters of their home. While that may not seem like much, such a rise in blood pressure is roughly equivalent to the increase a person experiences as a result of three years of aging.
Another interesting aspect of the study was that health consequences were dependent on how foreclosures were resolved. Properties that slipped into foreclosure, but then recovered or were quickly sold, did not result in negative health consequences for community members. Rather, blood pressure rates started to rise when foreclosure led to properties that languished with uncertainty, resulting in vacant homes and neighborhood blight.
If the uncertainty of foreclosure and the empty or poorly maintained properties that can result is the health concern, then mediation may be part of the cure. For one, foreclosure mediation can do just what the study showed is the best way to avoid or reduce negative health consequences – help those in foreclosure get clear resolution so that people can move forward.
In addition to efficiency, mediation also offers substantial benefits to those who receive services, such as education, self-empowerment and a safe and confidential environment. Mediation can be a welcomed change from the struggle to find answers and the uncertainty and fear about where the foreclosure process will lead. Instead, with mediation, homeowners have support (in addition to mediators, many programs refer homeowners to HUD-approved, non-profit housing counselors and some provide legal aid). Having an expert help guide the homeowner through the foreclosure and loan modification process also often benefits lenders, who are required to work with homeowners and tell them about modification options, but are more likely to receive accurate and complete modification applications when homeowners have support.
Of course, mediation does not guarantee one particular outcome and is not just designed to “save” people’s homes. Mediation is a neutral process that facilitates conversation and can help break impasse and remove communication barriers that may be standing in the way of resolution. Depending on the individual situation, a resolution might involve the homeowner getting a modification and remaining in the home, or it may mean that short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure – options where the homeowner does not retain the property – are the right choice. Whatever the outcome, mediation offers closure, which I think we can all agree is healthy.
As extensively as RSI is monitoring and evaluating our foreclosure mediation programs, we have no plans to measure participants’ blood pressure. That fact aside, common sense and the nifty study explained above are enough to convince me that foreclosure mediation programs are doing more than helping courts move foreclosure cases through the system. Rather, programs have the opportunity to literally improve the health of the communities they serve – one blood pressure point at a time.