The Fair Housing Center, a private, non-profit civil rights agency dedicated to ending housing discrimination in northwest Ohio, is also a HUD certified housing counseling agency that works with homeowners facing foreclosure, said Lisa Lawson, of the Fair Housing Center.
“We work with people who are facing foreclosure. We got into that because there was so much predatory lending in the City of Toledo, primarily, but certainly elsewhere. The foreclosure crisis is now spreading because of that. We work with people to get loan modifications, and we also have some grants available right now for people who are behind in their mortgage,” said Lawson.
People have to meet certain criteria to be eligible, she added.
“Of course, the agencies or whoever gives us the money, tells us who qualifies. We do have some grant programs available right now. We’ve completed around 135 loan modifications for folks. People who are going through our program are saving an average of $150 per month. That’s a lot of money that stays right here on our community, if you multiply that out times 135. That’s to say nothing of the grants we’ve provided. They also see an average interest rate reduction of about 4.5 percent. So it’s amazing. We’ve put more than $8.5 million back into our community over the life of the loans for people who have those.”
The center’s services are free and confidential, she added.
She cautioned against using companies that charge for foreclosure assistance.
“A lot of them sound like government agencies, call themselves Federal Foreclosure Prevention or something like that, then take your money to the tune of $2,000 and never do a thing for you. That’s not uncommon. We hear that a lot,” she said. “We will never charge people a dime for anything that we do. We provide free housing counseling, we’ll pull credit reports, and work with the lenders and do whatever it takes to make sure people can stay in their homes.”
The center will contact the lender immediately for anyone seeking help, she said.
“We will contact the lender and try to work that out with everyone who walks through our door. That said, as soon as someone contacts us, the easier it will be for us to help them. We had someone contact us yesterday, and the sheriff’s sale was in February. It’s going to be difficult to help them. That doesn’t mean we didn’t try, we did. But I will tell you that it’s a lost cause,” she said.
“There’s also another program that I think people should be aware of that President Obama implemented last March, 2009, that is called “Making Home Affordable.” It’s for people who aren’t behind on their mortgage. It’s for people who are just struggling on their mortgage. In fact, you can’t have missed or been late on two payments in the last 12 months. But if you’re current, that’s even better, where they will reduce your payment down to 31 percent of your current gross income. They do that a number of ways. They can extend the payment out for a number of years, they can reduce your interest rate, and even write off principal, which is somewhat lesser done. I used that program, and I’m saving $500 per month on my mortgage. It happens. And not only that, but the government will give qualified participants in this program $1,000 for each of the next five years for making their payments on time, which is great because for those of us who are struggling and still maintaining our payments, that’s cash in the bank. We work with that, too. So people can come to us and say, `Hey, look, I’m not behind, I’m just really struggling. I need some help. Can you help me?’ And we’ll do that, too.”