Housing Solutions for Those Hardest Hit

Nearly 1,000 struggling homeowners braved 95 degree temperatures today to attend a economic assistance event held at the Dallas Convention Center. The National Urban League’s (NUL) 2009 Economic Empowerment Tour stopped in the city, before heading next to Los Angeles and then Washington DC, in an attempt to push those facing economic hardships into a more financially viable situation. Lenders such as Bank of America (a sponsor for today’s event), Chase, National City Mortgage and Wells Fargo set up mortgage modification work stations. HUD-approved mortgage counselors also held court. Freddie Mac also set-up a table. Across the hall, employers, such as the Dallas Police Department, retailer Dollar General, the Social Security office and worldwide-shipper UPS, worked to place the unemployed. And in recognition that loss of income often goes hand-in-hand with medical bills due to illnesses, a health fair handled screenings on vitality. “My philosophy has always been one of economic inclusion,” says NUL president Marc Morial, alluding to his stint as mayor of New Orleans and describing the current event’s ideology. “The Obama administration offers a flurry of new programs, but the internet will only provide basic information. This tour brings the necessary resources to save a home or secure a job under one roof for some face-to-face interaction.” However, he added, some will still lose their homes. “Some don’t realize that voluntary surrender may be favorable to foreclosure,” Morial adds. “How many times did Donald Trump return the keys to the lender?” Jerry Durham, a homeownership advocate for Bank of America, agreed with the former mayor, and added that for every foreclosure, five homes are successfully modified. The bank made 230,000 modifications in 2008 and 155,000 in the first four months of 2009, and expects to do many, many more. But he notes that modified repayments will not insure a borrowers will continue to maintain solvent. In fact, distressed borrowers are reluctant to publicize their hardships and Durham says the event maintains a strict code of confidence. He did, however, describe some of the situations that brought so many people to downtown Dallas. One guy saw his income slashed from $75,000 a year to $60,000, for example. Bank of America, his lender, could lower his monthly payment by $500, but his car note remained at a restrictive $850 a month. “A modified payment doesn’t insure against foreclosure, especially if a borrower won’t put the brakes on spending elsewhere. But if it comes to that, when all retention options have failed, then we will move to introduce an exit strategy, such as a short sale,” Durham said. Cy Richardson, who works in economic development and housing for the NUL believes the tour is working to help keep communities intact but believes there is still more progress to be made across-the-board. He feels originators need to educate more, especially when potential borrowers are minorities, and banks need to increase the transparency of their mortgage strategies. “No ethnicity was harder hit in the subprime crisis as the African American community. We had 200 years of being refused credit, so when the ‘yes’ started happening, no one was prepared,” he says. “Now we are faced with a generation that again believes mortgages are out of reach and they distrust banks,” he adds. “We are back to stuffing our sock drawers and mattresses with what could have been a down payment.” The NUL hopes to address this by recruiting for more underwriter positions for blacks, and other, similar initiatives, in order to get minorities to hold a larger voice in the greater financial arena. Banks are receptive, Richardson says, but not a single bank set-up a booth in the job fair, HousingWire noticed. As for the blame game, everyone agrees that working together for solutions is a more positive step forward than pointing fingers. Richardson said the day of reckoning is now, and introspection is the new code of conduct. “Between 2005 to 2007, we [African Americans] were reaching 50% homeownership rates and we didn’t stop once to question the decision making infrastructure because we were so pleased,” he says, “so even the non-profits fell asleep at the wheel.” Anyone who can not attend an Economic Empowerment Tour can find a HUD-sponsored counselor at the Find a Foreclosure Counselor website. Write to Jacob Gaffney.

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