Sarah Penner has seen the local real estate market go from promising to disastrous. In turn, she adjusted her own employment to meet reality.
Penner used to work for Dillin Corporation when the big economic development news on this side of town was the impending 127-acre Marina District along the Maumee River in East Toledo. She left in July, 2008.
Times have changed.
Lots of people are facing losing their homes during these hard economic times. Renegotiating your mortgage terms or dealing with foreclosure is often difficult and confusing to deal with, Penner says.
Now, Penner works for Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a HUD-certified, non-profit agency whose mission is to keep homeowners in their homes.
If it has to, ESOP members will go to the streets to make their voice heard. She said when a bank doesn’t listen to her organization’s pleas, they send out letters first before resorting to other tactics.
“When that doesn’t work, that’s when we really start to have fun,” Penner said. “It’s an organized hit. It’s not really a bad thing, but it’s really a fun thing.
“An example of a hit is a state wide action we had against Chase Bank about a year and a half ago where we picked different Chase Bank branches around the state — got as many Chase Bank homeowners as we could and get them together in that area where we are having mortgage issues, and put them on a bus. The largest one was in Rocky River outside Cleveland. We had three school bus loads full of Chase Bank homeowners. We get them off the bus at one particular Chase Bank branch, march them into the bank yelling, ‘Chase Bank sucks. Call (the CEO). Chase Bank sucks.”
“Our stated purpose is nothing more than to go into the bank, ask the bank manager to send another nice, professional letter to the CEO requesting a meeting. Of course, our real purpose is to get some publicity out of it, because the last thing those lenders want today is negative publicity.
“We know we are not going to cause any harm, or do anything really mean. We just want the attention, but they don’t know that. So (the police) get out of their cars, put a smile on their face, and they know they are not walking into anything dangerous,” Penner continued.
“Just to let you know the success we’ve had with that method. The first thing to know is we’ve tried nice, quiet methods of sitting down and talking with them rationally first. In the six weeks prior to that Chase Bank action, we had about nine workouts for our Chase Bank homeowners — a little bit but not very good. In the two days after that action, we had nine workouts for homeowners, and within a month we had 25 more.”
More civil approach
Penner spoke to East Toledo residents about her organization at the November meeting of Block Watch 410 (formerly 421B) at Garfield Elementary. She urged residents in foreclosure crisis, whether active or inactive, to let ESOP help get agreeable terms on their mortgage so they can stay in their home.
ESOP usually applies more civil tactics than protesting at a bank.
The Lucas County Foreclosure Prevention and Intervention Network, which consists of 11 local organizations, says 50 percent of foreclosures can be halted by calling the Loss Mitigation Department of your mortgage company to work out terms.
In 1999, ESOP began talking to lenders, and today it has national agreements with 15 lenders and relationships with 16 others. The organization has seven negotiators, with each one dealing with certain banks.
If you live in Ohio and need help, or know someone who does, Penner suggests passing this information along —
• If you know anyone who is struggling, there is help available.
• If you, or your spouse, are unemployed, out of benefits and facing foreclosure, there is help available.
• If your mortgage has been sold and resold and you need help getting a mortgage modification, there is help available.
• Don’t suffer in silence and risk losing your home. Again, she says, “There is help available.”
The newest program, Penner says, is the Restoring Stability Program, which is providing $500 million to Ohio homeowners. Funds for this program are available until 2017 or when they run out, whichever comes first.
In Sandusky County, a Save Our Homes task force has been created to reduce foreclosures through intervention and education. Contact information for organizations in Lucas and Sandusky counties that can help are found at RestoringStability.org.
ESOP began as Cleveland’s East Side Organizing Project, and then went state wide about five years ago. At first, it dealt with neighborhood issues, but in the late 1990s added foreclosure prevention into its mission. It has 10 satellite offices in Ohio, with Toledo’s being the first to have someone on staff.
Penner says 70 percent of ESOP’s funding comes from state and federal grants, while the other 30 percent is from private funding.
Penner works at the ESOP Northwest Ohio-Lucas County office in the Gardner Building at 500 Madison Avenue, Suite 300. Penner can be reached at 419-464-9885 or