Foreclosures down, but many still seek assistance

Jan. 21, 2014 @ 06:29 PM

While foreclosures are down in North Carolina and locally, Devin Brown, an outreach coordinator a foreclosure prevention organization in Hillsborough, said he doesn’t believe things are necessarily “better.”

 “We still see about 30 new clients each month seeking assistance for foreclosure prevention/mortgage payment assistance, and that’s just our agency,” Brown said in an email. He is director of outreach and development for the Centre for Homeownership & Economic Development Corporation, one of a group of organizations that offers foreclosure prevention assistance services in the Durham County area.

Brown said the corporation helps people using a federal program called Making Home Affordable, which can help people refinance their homes or reduce their monthly mortgage payments. In addition, he said the center also works through a state foreclosure prevention effort offered through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency that allows people who meet certain qualifications to get zero-interest loans to help them pay their mortgages.

According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a December report showed that more than 1.9 million homeowner assistance actions have taken place through the federal Making Home Affordable Program, including more than 1.2 million mortgage modifications through the program’s Home Affordable Modification program. North Carolina-specific data was not available Tuesday.

Regarding the state assistance program, the N.C. Housing Finance Agency announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of the Treasury foreclosure prevention program has helped 550 households in Durham County and about 15,000 people in North Carolina since the program’s launch in December 2010. Money is available for another 6,000 people, the announcement said.

Also according to the announcement, 8,850 of the approximately 15,000 people across the state who participated in the program completed the assistance period and are now responsible for their own mortgage payments again. So far, fewer than 2 percent of those people have ended in foreclosure.

The foreclosure assistance program offers zero-interest loans of up to $36,000 for mortgage payments and related costs for up to 36 months for unemployed homeowners while they’re looking or retraining for another job. A zero-interest loan is available to help homeowners pay off a second mortgage.

The state program is to help North Carolina homeowners with payments on their primary residences. The homeowner has to owe no more than $300,000 on all mortgages and either must have lost his or her job, experienced a reduction in income at no fault of his or her own, or to have faced a temporary hardship such as a divorce, illness or death, according to the website http://www.ncforeclosureprevention.gov/am_i_eligible.aspx.

Brown said there still is a need for foreclosure assistance based on the people coming into the organization’s office. He said that’s even though foreclosures are down.

Foreclosure filings in North Carolina were down about 17.5 percent in 2013 compared with the prior year to 45,149 civil cases with a home or business foreclosure filing, according to N.C. Administrative Offices of the Courts. In Durham County, filings were down more than 20 percent year-over-year. The number of filings hadn’t been lower in a single year in the county since 2002.

 “There are still tons of people that we see that are struggling with their payments,” Brown said.

He said that primarily the office is working with unemployed people. They’ve included people, for example, who had technology jobs in the Research Triangle Park, worked in school systems or worekd in retail jobs.

Vera McCollum of Alamance County said she had an agreement with her lender to delay a foreclosure, which is called a forbearance, after she said she got behind in her payments more than a year ago. McCollum, 74, said she’s now working two jobs in her retirement: one with a home health care agency, and another cleaning part-time

Working with the Centre for Homeownership & Economic Development Corp., she was able to get her interest rate reduced from 6.25 to 4.7 percent so she could afford the payments.

“I am so happy, so happy because I think I would have lost my home,” she said. “I know I would have if I hadn’t got that modification.”