This elderly and disabled woman was devastated. Having lived in the same family home in New Jersey for decades, she had vowed that she would die there. But state property taxes had massively increased and she simply didn’t have the money to hold onto her home. All looked bleak until an online community stepped in to help.
Born in 1949, Alice Smith contracted polio when she was a young child, and has suffered from related degenerative physical and mental disabilities ever since. She grew up with her older brother in her parents’ home in the borough of Haddonfield, Camden County, New Jersey, and has lived there for most of her life.
Now 68 years old, and after a lifetime of suffering the after effects of the polio virus, things have now become even more complicated for Alice. The story starts when her parents’ health declined. Sadly her father died and her mother, Margaret, slowly went blind and lent on Alice as her primary support.
Despite her own disabilities Alice assumed the role of carer for her mother. She cooked, kept house and looked after her mother’s medical and business affairs. But Margaret’s main concern was what was going to happen to her daughter after she died.
For peace of mind Margaret wanted to make sure her disabled daughter could stay in the house she had bought with her husband back in 1951, so she made a plan. With the mortgage paid off, Margaret set up a trust fund for Alice so she could afford to stay in her childhood home.
Margaret sadly died in 2003 but Alice was able to live on at the Haddonfield house, living off regular payments from the trust fund to cover her expenses. But recently Alice has found herself in deep financial trouble, through no fault of her own.
A massive hike in property taxes in the state of New Jersey meant that Alice’s house came under threat. It began to look as though she would lose the house to foreclosure, because she simply couldn’t afford to pay the new tax rate of $8,500 per year on the property.
Alice could only rely on $17,150 per year, from social security and payments from her father’s small pension. That was all she had coming in, but it simply wasn’t enough now that New Jersey had the most expensive property taxes in the country.
The fact the house had no mortgage was of no help. Margaret could not have foreseen such an increase in taxes. This left Alice in a very difficult situation. Were the authorities really going to evict an elderly disabled woman from her own home?
For a proud, independent-minded woman whose strongest desire was to see out her days in her family home, this was potentially catastrophic. She had always had a very optimistic outlook on life, but things were looking grim.
It was down to her older brother, Jack, to try and help Alice. Having had no luck appealing to the Mayor of Haddonfield and the state governor, he cooked up a plan of his own – he set out to get Alice a reverse mortgage.
This would stop Alice’s home being foreclosed, but before the lender could approve the move the house needed repair work to meet policy requirements. Alice needed to find some cash from somewhere to jump through these loops before she could officially keep the house.
Jack worked out that Alice needed a total of $14,500 to obtain the reverse mortgage. So her closest family and friends appealed to a number of local organizations in the hope of securing some donations.
Sadly they didn’t have much luck. Undeterred, Jack then asked his son, Mark, to set up a GoFundMe page online in the hope of raising the cash. The page carried an emotional appeal, “In this New Year, the most significant present that Alice could receive is that she can continue to remain in her home.”
Since the petition was launched by Alice’s nephew in December 2016, thousands of dollars have poured in. By July 2017 the total reached a whopping $16,260 – comfortably more than the family had originally hoped for to secure the reverse mortgage.
Mark told Fox News that he was, “Absolutely amazed and very encouraged,” by the generosity of everyone who donated. “You just put out there that there’s somebody in need and how quickly people responded,” he continued.
“I’ve been here nearly all my life,” Alice told New Jersey local news website Courier Post. “I love everything about the house, I love my neighbors. This house means everything to me. I want to live here for the rest of my life until the day I die.” And now – thanks to the generosity of family, friends and total strangers – it looks like she will be able to.
It’s a fantastic result for the Smith family, but that doesn’t stop them worrying about other vulnerable people who may also be caught out by tax increases. “There’s other people out there who may not have the support network that Alice has,” Mark told Fox News.
He has expressed disgust at the way New Jersey lawmakers have indiscriminately imposed these tax rises on people. “The state is failing in its fundamental obligation to protect the most vulnerable and defenseless – the fully disabled and elderly.”
It seems Alice may enjoy a happy ending, but it might not be the same story for everyone. Let’s hope that the people at the top take notice of Alice’s tale, heed the calls for change and do something to protect New Jersey’s most vulnerable people.