While the reverse mortgage industry maintains a presence in Washington through its trade association and advocacy groups, one reverse mortgage lender is launching an effort to connect directly with the roughly 20 congressmen and senators who oversee and control the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Administration.
The channel for getting the borrowers’ voice across: letter writing.
Austin, Texas-based Reverse Mortgage USA is leading the charge to influence the federal government in an effective and ethical way, says John Mitchell, the lender’s founder and CEO. The effort hinges on moving away from the traditional model of trying to gain specific, targeted influence and instead try to focus on the greater well being of the country.
“Why not have an industry organize an ongoing letter writing campaign of happy reverse mortgage customers writing their congressmen and senators on an month in and month out basis?” Mitchell asks.
Using past borrowers’ as a starting point for the campaign, Mitchell encourages them to reach out to their elected officials with reports of their experience. The effort has already begun to pay off through two successful letter-writing campaigns that gained attention of two senators last year. A program in Washington state caught the ear of Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) through 72 letters over two months.
A summer campaign directed toward Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) saw 160 letters from borrowers. During that campaign, Mitchell learned the ins and outs of encouraging happy reverse mortgage customers to take the next step and actually write to their senators. The outcome landed Mitchell in Hutchison’s office in March, where he confirmed that the letter writing had made an impression.
Mitchell also focused on how reverse mortgages can be used to save Medicaid dollars—a message that further piqued the interest of the senator, he says.
“Sen. Hutchison and staff began to appreciate that the reverse mortgage industry was part of the solution, rather than just another industry wanting something for their own benefit—and therefore being part of the problem in Washington, D.C.,” he says.
Ultimately, the overall message will be pushed via one or two lobbyists who work exclusively for the reverse mortgage industry, brought on once the letter writing campaign is steadily under way.
“The key aspect of this initiative would be accountability,” Mitchell says. He and Reverse Mortgage USA will begin rallying for support of other top-10 lenders in the fourth quarter of this year, with plans to report on the campaign quarterly.
Written by Elizabeth Ecker