No longer a membership association for retired people only, AARP has become a powerful consumer advocacy operation, a stalwart lobbyist for consumer issues and a hot dog dot org brimming with topical consumer content, information and support for housing and home finance issues.
When housing consumers wonder how they can actively help change the persistent problems plaguing housing and mortgage lending, they may look no further than AARP.
With chapters in every state and several U.S. territories, the Washington, D.C. based, 44-year-old, non-profit AARP boasts 35 million members who are largely of the greater economically, politically and socially influential baby boom generation -- 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964.
The baby boomer influence comes from its sheer size and economic strength -- the group comprises one third of the nation's population, created the youth culture of the 1960s and it created the 1970s and the dual-income households of the 1980s and 1990s -- not to mention its ownership of a sizable share of the nation's residential real estate-based wealth.
It's no wonder, along with health care, consumer finance and Social Security issues, the group champions the causes of real estate matters.
AARP specifically shed it's "American Association of Retired People" label years ago to be known simply as "AARP" to better reflect and serve its increasingly more active constituency -- people 50 and older, half of whom are working full or part time.
For less than $25 a year, members enjoy a host of benefits that as a group isn't available for the same price anywhere else -- Webplace at AARP, the popular Modern Maturity and My Generation magazines; discounts on retail purchases and travel; special insurance, investment and tax programs; low-rate credit cards and learning, career advancement and small business programs, to name just a few.
What's more than worth the cost of membership for housing and mortgage consumers is AARP's position on the front lines in the war against mortgage and housing abuse.
Long aware of the importance of housing as both a basic need and as a financially sheltering asset, AARP has become a staunch adversary of the wayward segment of the mortgage lending industry and is unwilling to wait for either the industry to correct itself.
Much to the chagrin of the mortgage industry, AARP last year launched a state-by-state national campaign to fight predatory lending, rather than merely wait for the mortgage industry-favored approach -- federal legislative action.
AARP recognizes and welcomes the fact that subprime mortgage lending was developed as a way to enable individuals with impaired credit histories to obtain or refinance home loans or to get home improvement loans. It want after the predatory lending segment, however, to stop the practice of some subprime lenders who turn otherwise financially freeing mortgages into financial nooses tossed round the necks of unsuspecting consumers who are often older home owners and buyers.
AARP has mounted lobbying efforts for greater consumer mortgage protection in half the nation's states including successful efforts in Georgia, California and the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile, AARP also backs U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes' (D-MD) federal predatory lending bill "The Predatory Lending Consumer Protection Act of 2002" which, unfortunately, is slowly making it's way through Congress.
"Too many of the most abusive lending practices and exploitive loan products remain unrestricted. It is time to take the next step," said AARP president Tess Canja when the bill was introduced earlier this year.
AARP also has been at the forefront of other home and home loan issues including home improvement contracts, contractors and loans; reverse mortgages, equity loans, credit scores and credit reports, housing options for older people, aging in place, universal design and manufactured housing.
Its web site is loaded with tips, worksheets, insightful content and other information on those and related issues. Perhaps the only pressing housing matter AARP has not fully tackled in a big way is new home defects.
Given the propensity for older Americans to move up -- or down -- to newly built homes, AARP throwing its weigh behind the new home defect issue is likely just a matter of time.
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