Saving Alice Smith's Home
$16,260 of $14,500 goal
Alice M. Smith is 68 years old and is both mentally and physically disabled due to childhood polio. Although wheelchair bound, she currently lives independently in her family home, with the assistance and care of volunteers, family and neighborhood friends. Her sole income is from Social Security and her father's pension totaling a meager $17,150 annually. Despite this meager income, she has made do by living in a house with no mortgage payments, and with the support of various people in her life. Unfortunately, her inability to pay the astronomically high real estate property taxes, which for Alice amounts to $8,500 per year, has led to foreclosure being initiated on her home. Alice could have her home taken from her in the coming months.
Alice’s parents moved to Haddonfield, New Jersey in 1949. Alice contracted polio as an infant and was left with both physical and mental handicaps as a result of high fevers and other devastating effects of polio. During her school age years, Alice attended special education classes. Alice loves the town of Haddonfield. As a young woman with disabilities, Alice still regularly attended mass at Christ the King Church, and would frequent local community events, such as Haddonfield's 4th of July and Memorial Day parades. Despite her physical limitations, Alice even volunteered to work at a home for the elderly. There, she enjoyed talking to the residents and listening to their stories.
In later years, her father passed away and her mother became blind due to macular degeneration. Alice then became her mother’s caretaker, as well as her eyes. Alice would read the content of incoming mail and make out checks at her mother’s direction. Alice could also cook, maintain the house, and ensured that her mother took her required medication as directed.
The degenerative effects of polio and other illnesses Alice has endured over the years have now left her wheelchair bound. She was deemed by the state of New Jersey to be 100% both physically and mentally disabled. She lives in the only home that she has ever known for over 60 years in Haddonfield. She is fiercely proud of being able to live independently with only limited daily assistance. Her firmest wish is to live in her family home until she dies. Despite having handicaps that would daunt or overwhelm most people, Alice maintains a cheerful and optimistic outlook.
As her parents grew older, they wanted to ensure that Alice would be able to remain in the only home that she had ever known. Both parents placed in their wills the written directive that their daughter remain in the home permanently. They placed the Haddonfield home into an estate trust for Alice’s benefit, and set aside modest savings to cover future expenses on the home. Since the mortgage on the home was fully paid, they believed the only expenses she would encounter would be modest property taxes, medical expenses, and usual food and utility expenses. Alice has a very small monthly income from Social Security and the Office of Personnel management at the dependent child rate, since she was disabled since birth and could never work. Initially, that amount was fully adequate to cover her needs.
Unfortunately, in the years since her father and mother passed away, New Jersey real estate property taxes have exploded and are now the highest property taxes of any state. Despite living in a home with no mortgage, the limited funds left for Alice have been consumed over the years in paying property taxes, property maintenance expenses, and medical expenses. New Jersey now imposes on Alice an incredible property tax of over $8,500 annually which is impossible for her to pay, given her total annual income of only $17,150.
Alice recently received a notice of intent to foreclose unless back taxes are paid. Appeals have been made to the Mayor’s office in Haddonfield and to the Governor’s office in Trenton, and their responses have acknowledged that her situation is unfortunate, yet confirm that there are no local or state programs to assist disabled people to keep their homes in circumstances such as these. Nor does New Jersey exempt those fully disabled such as her with minimal income from real estate property tax.
To remedy the situation in view of negative responses to appeals to the state, a reverse mortgage has been pre-approved to prevent the house from going into foreclosure. Securing the reverse mortgage would establish an escrow account with enough funds to pay back taxes owed, as well as pay future property taxes and home owners insurance for the rest of Alice’s life and thus fulfill her parents’ wish that she remain in the house.
Unfortunately, in order for the reverse mortgage to be fully approved and processed, certain HUD-mandated repairs to the home and other costs associated with Alice’s particular situation must be covered, resulting in a shortfall of $14,500.
Alice, her family, the volunteers who assist her with her day to day care in the house, and her neighbors are seeking donations to cover the $14,500 shortfall needed to secure the reverse mortgage. We have reached out to civic and religious organizations such as United Way, the Lions and Rotary Clubs, local churches; the Diocese of Camden and Catholic Charities of Camden County, to no avail so far.
In this New Year, the most significant present that Alice could receive is that she can continue to remain in her home. Donations of any size would be greatly appreciated and would help her to keep her home. If you are unable to donate, please pass this message on to someone else you know who may. Besides assisting Alice, people donating can take comfort that, as they start the New Year, they have provided a tremendous gift to someone in great need.
"Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" -Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”
For anyone who wishes to pay their respects, the service for Alice will be held this Saturday, March 2nd, at 11:00 AM. She will be buried at Calvary Cemetery in Cherry Hill at 12:30 PM.
Thank you all again for assuring that her remaining years were lived in the way that she wished, and deserved.
For our family, it was so refreshing and inspiring that so many people – some total strangers – were willing to step forward and assist Alice. That so many people would take time out of their busy lives to send words of encouragement or contributions serves to restores one’s basic faith in the humanity and demonstrates the inherent kindness that exists across every ethnic and religious boundary. It was truly amazing to witness so many people coming together to assist Alice in a time of need.
To the people of Haddonfield and neighboring communities who stepped forward with help, we are deeply thankful and appreciative for your wonderful efforts and support. To the many individuals who contributed but preferred to remain anonymous we have profound respect and gratitude for assisting Alice without any personal recognition. We also want to send a special “thank you” to the numerous complete strangers, both in the US and overseas, who became aware of Alice’s situation and contributed. Finally, when we were still several thousands of dollars short with time running out, we want to recognize my Naval Academy classmates who in less than 24 hours provided all the remaining funds needed for the reverse mortgage to become a reality.
In summary, words alone are insufficient to adequately express the full extent of our appreciation and gratitude to all the people that saved my sister’s house and made it possible for her to live there for her remaining years in peace and tranquility.
We are grateful to the news media:
- Brigit Bauma, Associate Editor of The Haddonfield Sun for publishing the initial letter to the editor drawing attention to Alice’s situation
- Celeste Whittaker of the Courier Post deserves special recognition and we owe her a deep debt of gratitude. Celeste took strong personal interest in gaining public awareness of Alice. She extensively interviewed Alice and then wrote in-depth articles that captured so eloquently the human side of Alice and her plight which provoked strong response and support from readers.
- Finally, Bill Anderson of Fox News Channel 29 is preparing a segment on the happy ending for Alice in his “For Goodness Sake” program that focuses on people or organizations "finding light in dark situations."
We also want to recognize the tireless dedication and cheerful efforts of Lorraine Faas, the AAG reverse mortgage professional who never gave up, despite what at times seemed like a hopeless situation. She spent so many hours overcoming hurdles to ensure that Alice could remain in her home.
Finally, we hope that the New Jersey legislature will finally take action to fully exempt both totally disabled and/or senior citizens with household incomes and assets below a certain level from property taxes all together. That would avoid situations, like Alice’s, from occurring in the future – whereby the fully disabled and elderly, trying to survive on meager incomes with no real assets, can be literally be taxed out of their homes simply because they do not have sufficient income to pay the high and ever increasing level of property taxes. Simple tenants of social justice and basic fairness are not currently addressed in the New Jersey tax code. It is time for the legislature to act and remedy this - with the same sense of speed, fairness and humanity that was exemplified by so many people who became aware of Alice’s dire plight.
Linda Forrest, I don't believe a tax freeze will help Alice. She would still have to pay the current tax rate of $8500 per year which she cannot pay. The idea of the reverse mortgage is for her to have a fund (from the Rev Mort) that she can pay the taxes from, thus not eating into her meager income and keeping her from losing the house in a tax sale. The problem is having to bring the house to code, which should be done anyway. I hope the community and the rest of us can help her reach the goal. I'm sick of the state and federal governments (and mortgage companies, though they're not involved in THIS case) screwing people who have worked hard to buy and keep their homes. It's time that they start doing things FOR the people, not TO them!
How much is owed in back taxes? Would it make more sense to bring that up to date and apply for senior freeze than to do code repairs and reverse mortgage?