Seattle and the State of Washington allocate a fair amount of money to help people who are facing foreclosure save their houses. But most people in need of help have no idea this program exists.
In 2011, the Foreclosure Fairness Act was approved by the state legislature in order to help lenders and homeowners explore alternatives to foreclosure. The act also allows for a mediation process between lenders and homeowners to potentially avoid foreclosure.
“Right now the estimates are that about only 10 percent of people who could qualify for this program are actually seeking help,” said Todd Burley, communications director at the city’s Office of Housing. Burley said he and his colleagues have done a lot of advertising for the program, but informing more people is still one of the biggest challenges.
Through its Foreclosure Prevention Programs, the city housing department
provides helps people find free counseling and legal services, as well as other related resources. The housing department hired employees that know different languages, like Spanish and Chinese, depending on the ratio of their visitors.
Information is also available in the form of pamphlets and brochures in 11 languages, including Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and can be downloaded online or sent through the mail for free. The Office of Housing provides basic information about foreclosure and how to get assistance at different steps in the process. It will direct people in need to the Washington State Homeownership Resource Center where people can get the best resources.
“Nobody, aside from homeowners and the bank, knows that someone is in a foreclosure until very late in the process,” Burley said. If people are already in a foreclosure when they come to him, it might be too late to give constructive help, he explained. “I hope that we can reach people that are early in the process. We have a better chance to actually help them out.”
Besides the free legal counseling from the Office of Housing, people can also apply for loans from many other programs that help improve housing situations.
“Applicants need to make sure that they work with a housing counselor who specializes in foreclosure counseling. That is probably the most important thing they should do in this process,” said Debin Stubblefield, rescue loans executive of Washington Stabilization Fund, a housing counseling agency. Stubblefield said their program could provide $30,000 maximum for people in foreclosure.
But the essential step is to let more people know about the program, according to Burley. The housing department reaches out to community organizations to help them promote this prevention program, and even goes to door to door to let people know about the resources.
One of the most difficult aspects of foreclosure is that people who are involved in one may not be willing to share their situation. Burley said they may feel shamed or targeted by seeking help from his office. He said the Office of Housing has tried to be sensitive to help people cope.
Neighborhoods where many people of color live “are disproportionately impacted by foreclosures,” Burley said. African Americans and Asian Americans in Seattle are especially impacted, he said, as are senior citizens, although he could not provide statistics because the city does not collect such data.
Burley said that every single home saved means a lot the city.
Burley offered some basic advice to homeowners facing foreclosure: Track down all the documents or information concerning the first foreclosure notice and get in touch with the Office of Housing as soon as possible. He said all documents are important, even if you do not know much about the information on them. Every case is different and the chance of being helped will increase if homeowners get help before foreclosure happens.
Some housing officials, however, think that the complicated paperwork may be one reason people don’t seek help.
“People get tired of submitting these documents over and over again,” said Linda Taylor, housing director at Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. Taylor said people who seek their help for loans should submit all the paperwork at one time. If any document is missing, applicants have to reapply again from the beginning, which delays loans.
Taylor also said that people don’t seek help because they may be underestimating their financial situation. Scams are also a concern. People should be aware that the Office of Housing is the official place to find help.
This article has been updated since its original publication. It was first published in the International Examiner.