Oct 11, 2021 - Real Estate

Elderly D.C. residents are falling victim to housing scams

Illustration of a shadowy hand looming over three row houses.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Elderly Washingtonians are falling victim to predatory — and often unlicensed — investors, developers, and scammers looking to profit off of their homes.

Why it matters: Redevelopment efforts are leading to displacement and diminished opportunity for intergenerational wealth for some of the District's oldest residents, who are often Black.

  • The trend is highlighted by the decline in minority D.C. residents over the last few decades.
  • The Navy Yard area was the hardest hit, with a 72% decrease in Black residents between 2000 and 2018.

What's happening: Developers are targeting communities, such Navy Yard, with skyrocketing property values and knocking on the doors of long-time homeowners who may be behind on their mortgage payments or property taxes.

  • "They're all related," Deborah Cuevas Hill, a lawyer with Legal Counsel for the Elderly, says of falling behind on payments and falling prey to housing scams.
  • "When someone faces hard times and has a hard time paying these bills, they are more likely to be preyed on by scammers."

Shady investors will frequently push "quick, hassle-free sales" even after a homeowner says they're not interested in selling. And most times these offers are far below the home's market value, Cuevas Hill says.

  • She's seen cases where seniors unknowingly sell their homes by signing one single document and later get sued for not showing up to closing.

Be smart: The current moratorium on evictions makes it hard to track recent numbers on evictions and predatory behavior overall because new cases aren't being filed right now.

  • Once the moratorium lifts, more longtime residents will be at risk of losing their homes.

What's next: While Attorney General Karl Racine's Elder Justice helps with housing scams targeting the elderly, Legal Counsel for the Elderly is advocating for additional changes.

  • Expanded licensing requirements would prevent unlicensed developers and investors from being able to easily operate predatory businesses.
  • Do-not-call and do-not-solicit lists would limit contact between scammers and elderly homeowners.
  • Additional disclosures, especially regarding a home's market value, would help with transparency.

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