The sooner people who are facing foreclosure reach out for help, the better the odds that they will reach a fair settlement.
That was the message Monday from Brian E. Lawlor, executive deputy commissioner for the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal.
Lawlor was one of several speakers at a training session for more than 100 housing counselors from nonprofit agencies around the state. The event, sponsored by the Capital District HomeSave Coalition and Affordable Housing Partnership, trains counselors to provide homeowners with free, quality foreclosure prevention services.
“Nobody wins in a foreclosure,” said Lawlor. “Not the homeowner, the lender, the neighbors or the community. Everybody is a loser. Too many times people wait until it’s too late, and everybody’s hands are tied, and there’s really nothing you can do to help them.”
Lawlor said a new bill in New York helps homeowners during the foreclosure process by making it mandatory for lenders to make buyers aware of the free counseling.
“Before a bank can foreclose, they must let every homeowner who is in default know there are counselors available to talk to them to try to resolve their issues,” said Lawlor. “And once a foreclosure proceeding starts, there are mandatory settlement conferences that must be attended by the lenders.”
Lawlor stressed that homeowners must reach out and ask for help immediately rather than waiting until they can’t make a payment or until they get a notice from a bank.
“As soon as they know they are going to have trouble making their mortgage payment, or if they see a crisis on the horizon, these housing counselors are available to help them find the right refinancing model,” said Lawlor. “This gives everyone a chance to work things out. Too many people wait too long and have been unable to get assistance.”
Susan Cotner, executive director of Affordable Housing Partnership and coordinator of the HomeSave Coalition, stressed that the service is not only free, but that the counselors are well trained.
“Sometimes people think if it’s free it’s not high-quality,” said Cotner. “In fact, the opposite is true. If it isn’t free, it’s a red flag.”
Cotner said homeowners of all incomes can be assisted.
Over the past year, housing counselors have worked with more than 200 families in the Capital Region to try to save their homes, said Cotner.
Ellie Pepper, assistant director of Better Neighborhoods Inc., in Schenectady, said foreclosure and difficulty obtaining a mortgage are the biggest problems facing homeowners or prospective homeowners today.
“More and more we are seeing people who are losing their jobs,” said Pepper. “And it’s happening across all socio-economic areas.”
Pepper said no one should be embarrassed if they are facing a foreclosure. “We are getting four to five calls a day about foreclosures in the Schenectady, Fulton-Montgomery areas,” said Pepper.
Stephanie Galvin, housing counselor with the Albany County Rural Housing Alliance, said she hopes that homeowners become comfortable seeking help from housing counselors.
“Foreclosure is not easy for anyone,” she said. “Not the homeowner, not the lender or the counselor. We are not here to judge you. We are here to present you with options to your situation, and to help you carry through those options with some dignity and respect.”
While Galvin said no one can guarantee a specific outcome, she said she will guarantee that trained housing counselors will do their best to give buyers and lenders the best possible solution.
“First, we talk with people to assess their circumstances,” said Galvin. “Then we will develop a budget plan and negotiate with the lender to help both parties arrive at a mutually beneficial resolution.”
All service is free and confidential.