Increase equality. Promote equity. Forge policy change.

Older single women were among those hardest hit by mortgage foreclosure and default in the subprime fallout. Black women, in particular were 256% more likely than White men to hold a subprime mortgage. SP2’s newest faculty member, Dr. Castro Baker, conducts research exploring how these gaps emerge and why these homeowner’s needs and voices remain missing from the national policy conversation.

According to Dr. Baker, “the public narrative surrounding the foreclosure crisis treated default as an isolated problem caused by either greedy predatory lenders or poorly educated homebuyers. While both of those statements can be true, data collection quickly demonstrated that other policy gaps created tipping points pushing women into foreclosure as they aged.” Take, for instance Eve, a Black homeowner from Philadelphia who purchased a small row home with her husband in the 1980s making them the first homeowners in their large family network. Years later, as subprime lending was rising, Eve’s husband passed away leaving her with two children in college, an aging parent with expensive health needs and a failing roof. She reached out for assistance, but as an employed homeowner she qualified for little leaving their home as her only asset. Eve later said, “the house was totally paid off, but I had no idea I was signing a death warrant.” Unbeknownst to her, when she drew on her home to repair the roof and subsidize her mother’s healthcare costs she did so with a ballooning loan that eventually lead to default. At the same time, she developed her own health problems, but as an hourly retail employee she received no benefits. Despite her precarious situation, she is still the strongest member of a financially fragile network. Dr. Baker describes that, “losing that house carries serious implications and costs for the family and the safety net. Where do they go? Who cares for the aging family member now? Their credit is destroyed and they cannot afford rent–Do we send them to a shelter? Who pays for all of it?”

Dr. Baker’s research demonstrates that this woman’s experience is far from unusual and tied to social problems and policies beyond housing and lending. Inadequate health care, lack of paid leave and housing systems ill prepared for the unique needs of homeowners all combined with risky lending to contribute to the foreclosure crisis. “When Ben Bernanke testified before the Inquiry Commission he described the foreclosure epidemic as a ‘perfect storm’. It was, but it went far beyond housing and is intimately tied to the ways social policies failed to meet the needs of homeowners struggling to make it. Reframing the narrative and research to account for the intersection of risky markets and social policy is key,” says Baker.

See more about Professor Amy Castro Baker.

About the Program

The Master of Science in Social Policy Program (MSSP) program is an eleven-month, ten-course program that prepares professionals with knowledge and skills to use policy to increase equality, promote equity, and forge social change. MSSP graduates are prepared for policy leadership positions in government, philanthropic foundations, research institutes, nonprofit and non-governmental organizations, and other related settings, through:

  • Understanding the world views, assumptions, and philosophies underlying all policy solutions;
  • Understanding how decisions about social policy issues are made, shaped and influenced at local, state, national and global levels;
  • Formulating a social reform agenda that is evidence-based and aims at improving the equity, effectiveness, and efficiency of policy creation and implementation; and
  • Generating and considering a wide array of policy options to address social problems.

The program is designed for:

  • Early and mid-career professionals engaged in policy work in a wide variety of organizational settings;
  • Social science Bachelor’s degree recipients, preferably with one year of post-BA employment, who wish to develop policy skills; and
  • Students pursuing other advanced degrees at Penn who wish a graduate degree in social policy. The MSSP may be combined with the following degrees: Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Public Health (MPH), and Juris Doctor (JD).

In every case, the student’s progress in meeting the program’s requirements will be guided by a written Academic Plan (AP) developed jointly by the student and the student’s academic advisor.

The MSSP program offers a rolling admission process until the class is filled. Priority consideration is granted to applications completed by or before March 15th.