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Fannie Mae mortgage assistance comes to Dallas

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There's a small office on the first floor of the 2777 Stemmons Freeway tower where Fannie Mae councilors are unpacking their boxes and opening their doors to homeowners, ready for face-to-face counseling. "It's a small office, but a lot of work is getting done here," said one councilor as she gives a group of Dallas natives a tour. The Dallas/Fort Worth Fannie Mae Mortgage Assistance office officially opened and started business Friday. Public officials and government representatives gathered for an introductory meeting to discuss Fannie's function in the DFW metroplex. "It's absolutely exciting," said Jeff Hayward, senior vice president of Fannie Mae. "We're here today to mark an important step forward in Fannie Mae's efforts to help struggling homeowners stay in their homes and to stabilize neighborhoods." The Dallas/Fort Worth office is the sixth mortgage assistance center Fannie Mae has opened this year in an effort to serve borrowers more effectively, meet with them in person and hasten foreclosure prevention efforts. Fannie Mae advises its borrowers on how to resolve their mortgage situation, organizes their budgets and provides financial counseling all at no cost to the borrower. Gary Neuman, director of Foreclosure Prevention at Fannie Mae, said this is a movement the government-sponsored enterprise feels is a top priority. "We're the investor and now we're reaching out to the public," he told HousingWire. "This is a new strategy and it seems to be working." Since Fannie Mae started opening mortgage assistance offices, it has scheduled 2,800 appointments with borrowers, 1,200 if which have worked out a loan modification or forbearance plan, according to Hayward. There are another 920 cases in the process of finding an alternative to foreclosure. Mayor Pro-Tem for the city of Fort Worth Danny Scarth said Fannie Mae's effort to keep borrowers in their homes is not only important for the DFW area, "it is vital." Currently, one in 738 borrowers in Texas is facing foreclosure; one in every 572 borrowers in Dallas is facing foreclosure; and one in every 408 borrowers in Tarrant County (the county that encompasses most of North Texas) is facing foreclosure, according to statistics provided by Fannie's Hayward. Dwaine Carraway, Mayor Pro-Tem for Dallas, echoed Scarth's sentiment, saying homeownership is an issue that defies the rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth. "It is so very important that we have Fannie Mae, that we continue a relationship. Not for Dallas not for Fort Worth, but for the region," Carraway said. "We can ill-afford to have Fannie Mae in our region." The Fannie Mae office off Stemmons houses a 10-person staff — five councilors, two in-takes or receptionists and three documentation researchers. Fannie Mae is teaming up with two local nonprofit organizations, the North Texas Housing Coalition and the Tarrant County Housing Partnership, on this initiative to increase the amount of staff available to work with borrowers. The Tarrant County Housing Partnership offers counseling from its office in Fort Worth and the North Texas Housing Coalition offers counseling from its Dallas office north of downtown. The organizations correspond with Fannie Mae Dallas electronically. Wherever, the offices are located, they all share a common goal: Quickening foreclosure prevention efforts. Texas is a nonjudicial state, meaning a foreclosure doesn't need to be approved by a state court. Because of this process, houses move back to the banks more quickly, which means if a borrowers wants to stay in their house, they need to figure out a solution more quickly. Fernando Espinoza, community outreach and education manager at Tarrant County Housing Partnership, said resolve mortgage issues can be timely when working with servicers. "That's the thing about working with servicers. I'm sure they're bombarded with requests," Espinoza said. "This will hopefully make the process quicker." But the organization is unwilling to comprise quality. As president of TCHP Donna VanNess put it: "We want a solution that reaches to the root of the problem rather than putting a band-aid on the symptoms." While mortgage assistance initiative is a step in the right direction, no one contested that there is still work to be done. Albert Martin, president of North Texas Housing Coalition, said the job is going to be "labor intensive" and just getting people to ask for help will be a challenge. HousingWire asked the senior VP of Fannie Mae what he thought the biggest challenge would be. "I think the biggest challenge is for people to understand that they can get free help. The biggest challenge is just getting people out to come talk. Once they get here, they're going to get help." Write to Christine Ricciardi.

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