Foreclosure Workshop At Tampa Convention Center
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09/28/09 Concetta DeLuco
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

With foreclosures rates at an all-time high across the nation, hundreds gathered at the Tampa Convention Center on Saturday for a foreclosure prevention workshop.

Karen Brown is sick over the thought that she might lose the first home she has ever owned. “I cannot eat. I have no appetite. My husband. They don’t understand my family. They notice I’m withdrawn from talking. I just don’t want to hear it. If I’m talking about it. I go to a corner by myself. I will cry and they don’t even know because I just can’t deal with this stress.”

Karen is not alone in her struggle. Florida has the second highest rate of foreclosures in the country, with 1 in every 140 homes filing for foreclosure in August. The many Tampa Bay residents who share in Karen’s situation lined up early Saturday morning for the Home Rescue Fair. Organized by the Alliance for Stabilizing Our Communities and partnered with Hope Now, it allowed homeowners to meet face to face with lenders, housing counselors and loan specialists.

Delphine Brown was among them. Like Karen, she risks losing her home, but she also faces foreclosure on her investment properties. And like the many other homeowners facing the backlash of adjustable rate mortgages, Delphine was looking to refinance. “I’d like to be able to refinance. If I can refinance then I can get a different. I’d like to….but I’m juggling. I’m dropping balls. You know the whole scenario of you can refinance however, you have to have perfect credit. Well I’m juggling right now so I know my credit isn’t perfect. I have income. I have what is it takes.”

After speaking with Tampa homeowners, Enayat Oliver of Neighbor Works America said that most residents are facing one of two problems. Similar to Delphine Brown, many of those with adjustable rate mortgages are now unable to afford the increase in rates. The other main problem is unemployment. “One of the biggest struggles that they appear to be facing right now is job loss. Most of the people that I have spoken with today have indicated that they have lost their jobs. Many of them have received new jobs but it was with less income. So it’s really an income situation..”

Fannie Mae administers President Obama’s Making Homes Affordable program that offers homeowners refinancing options. John Carpenter of Fannie Mae said many people face similar problems beyond unemployment. “Clearly as the economy continues to struggle, if you’ve lost your job, it’s difficult to make your mortgage payments. Even people who haven’t lost their job, but maybe had their hours cut. We’ve also heard from people who are suffering challenges of paying their mortgage because of medical bills and that’s a huge problem. So there are a lot of different causes for why someone gets into trouble, but we make sure they reach out to get help and make sure they reach out to trusted sources.”

But all hope is not lost. Oliver of Neighbor Works America said there are options out there to prevent foreclosure. For people who are still employed, rate reductions might be a possibility. “They do want to see that you actually have stable employment. Your income. They also want to take a look at your budget which is why it’s so important for them to work with the housing budget agencies here. You can get your budget looked at so we can get an idea of what you can actually afford.Which is a huge obstacle for most homeowners to overcome because most homeowners do not sit down and actually figure out what their budget is.”

And for those who are unemployed, Oliver said, “most people will received something along the lines of a forbearance which means they will hold payments up to usually about 6 months. Give them enough time to hopefully find a job and after 6 months they can review it and either start reviewing payments or maybe set them up with another forbearance if they can.”

Fannie Mae’s John Carpenter also has a few words of advice. He warns that homeowners need to steer clear of foreclosure prevention agencies that charge money for their services. “We hear all the time about people who receive offers that someone will help them if they pay money. You can almost be always guaranteed that something is not quite right if somebody says if you pay me I can help you because there is fraud. Free help from local non-profit housing counseling agencies or by calling the national foreclosure prevention hotline at 888-995-hope. So people should definitely not pay.”

However, Carpenter said the most important thing homeowners need to do to prevent foreclosure is be proactive. “That’s one of the things that we also really stress is that people should be pro-active and not wait. A lot of times people are in denial. They’re afraid. They’re confused and they don’t know what to do. The longer they wait the harder it will be for anyone to assist you.”

In the end, Neighbor Works America’s Oliver said that just giving people the opportunity to sit down with their lenders made the event a success. “I have seen people leave a little happier. At least relieved that they have been able to speak to someone face to face, which is pretty important when you are dealing with this process and you always have to deal with them on the telephone. You can’t always get…and you can’t always get a live body. Speakign with a servicer or they have the option of actually speaking with a counseling agency . So I think it’s just a matter of having someone listen to the story means a great deal to a lot of people. ”

Karen and Delphine were among those who got to sit down and finally get some questions answered. If you face foreclosure, contact a local housing counselor at http://hud.gov/counseling or checkout the Obama administration’s foreclosure prevention program at http://makinghomeaffordable.gov .

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