Thursday, April 17, 2008
Socorro Bernal has heard plenty of sad stories as the lone foreclosure counselor for the Monterey County Housing Alliance, a Salinas-based nonprofit that helps residents in danger of losing their homes.
“We have adult men crying, adult women crying, children cry to me, ‘Help me save my home,’ ” Bernal says. “I’ve had to become a housing counselor and a family counselor.”
Bernal’s help is in demand. She is booked through the middle of next month with appointments. “I wish I could take up more caseloads but I can’t because the ones I have require too much of my time,” she says.
Homeowners in trouble do have options. About 20 percent of Bernal’s clients qualify for money from organizations helping victims of predatory lending. Loan modification – changing the payment amounts to make them more affordable – also can work for some people, depending on their income.
Other options include a forbearance agreement, where payments may be made later, or a short sale, in which the bank agrees to sell a home for less than is owed. In such cases, banks can take their time in approving a price.
Bernal and others warn those facing foreclosures not to use so-called “loss mitigation” specialists offering to modify loans for thousands of dollars with no guarantee of the outcome. MOCHA’s services are free except for a one-time $25 materials fee.
David Bradley, vice president of communications for Bank of America, says homeowners should call their lender if they are behind on payments or think they will be soon.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. We don’t know what the specifics of the problem might be and the only way to find that out is to talk about it,’’ Bradley says.
But reaching loan service representatives can be difficult, especially since hundreds of homeowners are in the same situation.
While many are turning to a national foreclosure hotline (888-995-HOPE) for help, the Homeowner Rescue Alliance offers a different approach. The San Jose-based, for-profit company has partnered with Assemblywoman Anna Caballero to pool borrowers in the 28th Assembly District.
The organization hopes to register 1,000 homeowners so it can negotiate directly with banks and investors to keep people out of foreclosure. The alliance plans to receive a cut from savings generated in the process, but whether lenders will negotiate with them and how big of a percentage they will receive remain to be seen.
At alliance workshops, people register their loan and home information. The alliance has about $50 million worth of Countrywide loans registered already among the more than 500 homebuyers who have signed up.
Alliance co-founder Julius Nyanda, who hopes to take the company national, says lenders are starting to take the organization seriously but they can’t help homebuyers immediately. “Are we going to help people in 90 days? No,” Nyanda says. “But we will help the entire country in the next two years.”
Caballero likes the alliance’s model because it’s free, informative and bilingual.
“If it is successful then people will be able to resolve what is the biggest crisis in their life right now,” she says.Foreclosure prevention resources:
• Homeownership Preservation Foundation: Over-the-phone counseling sessions available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 888-995-HOPE, 995hope.org.
• Monterey County Housing Alliance: In-person counseling sessions available. Priority for homebuyers far along in the foreclosure process. 134 E. Rossi St., Salinas, 757-4657.
• Homeowner Rescue Alliance: Educational workshops with optional counseling sessions. The alliance’s next workshop starts at 9:30am on April 26 inside the Soledad YMCA building, 560 Walker Drive, Soledad, 800-471-9030.