The Press Newspaper
The Fair Housing Center deals with issues regarding race, disability, religion, color and sex for those seeking a place to live. It also helps people who are struggling to make their mortgage payments and are in danger of foreclosure on their houses.
“We are a HUD approved housing counseling agency under the Ohio Housing Financing Agency,” said Lisa Lawson-LaPointe, of the Fair Housing Center. “Basically, what it comes down to is that we never charge anyone for foreclosure prevention counseling. No one should ever pay for that. A new federal law just passed that took effect partly in December and partly in January. We’re not allowed to charge upfront fees. People were paying those ridiculous fees when they could be putting that toward their mortgage and getting caught up. So now that’s not allowed, for the most part. But we never charge.”
The Making Home Affordable program is still in effect, she said, which helps reduce a home owner’s mortgage payments to 31 percent of their gross income, including taxes and insurance.
“So just for the sake of math, if you got $1,000 in gross income, your mortgage payment, including taxes and insurance, would be $310. Not all banks are required to participate. If they took TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds, or you have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan, the lender is required to at least work with you. We have done a number of those, probably 150 at this point. On average, people are saving $250 per month. The average interest rate reduction is about 4 percent. Over the life of the loan, people are saving an average of about $50,000. So it’s tremendous. And that’s a lot of money that stays right here in our community. Again, we never charge for that,” she said.
The state launched a new program last fall called Restoring Stability to help unemployed or underemployed people, she said.
“There’s a lot of hoops to jump through. But it’s great for people who have some sort of involuntary loss of income. The state will cover up to $13,000 in assistance in Lucas County. That takes the form of getting someone caught up in their mortgage. If the lender will write off any principal, the state will match that dollar for dollar up to $15,000. And there’s transitional assistance if the house cannot be saved for foreclosure. Again, it’s a complicated program, but we can help people work through that. You do have to apply online. There’s a link on our website at www.toledofhc.org,” she said.
Lawson-LaPointe said state budget cuts haven’t affected the agency.
“Budget cuts haven’t been ferreted out fully at this point,” said Lawson-LaPointe. “We receive a grant from HUD, the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FIP). It’s our single largest source of funding. FIP will see an increase in next year’s proposed budget. I was kind of surprised by that. So that funding looks pretty stable,” she said. The agency also receives funding through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency called the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling grant.
The Center also received funding from a small state settlement with a lender as a result of alleged predatory practices, she added. “The attorney general funneled some money our way for that, primarily because we started off doing the predatory lending stuff. We also receive CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) contracts from Lucas County,” she said.
The FHC deals with discrimination in housing, particularly in regards to race and familial status, she said.
“There are six federally protected classes: race, religion, color, sex, familial status, and disability. Just to give you an idea of some of the things that we see, there has been a surge recently in familial status cases, which basically means you have a child under the age of 18 living with you. A lot of people are seeking housing and they’re being told `I’m sorry, we don’t accept people with children” kinds of issues. That’s actually illegal. Even in advertising, you can’t say `No kids.’ So we’re seeing, for some reason, a real surge in that, and I’m not completely sure why,” she said.
“Race remains our number one allegation of housing discrimination here locally. Although I will say, nationally, disability has taken over race. So that’s not a trend that we’re seeing here, but nationally that is true. In terms of disability, some of the things we see are service animals as opposed to pets. Under the law, a service animal and a pet are actually not the same animal, and a landlord would have to agree to allow someone to have a service animal, waive any sort of pet fee or any kind of monthly deposit. We see a lot of issues related to that. I’m not sure if that’s an ignorance of the law, or if they just think they can take away with it. Take your pick. The end result is that the person doesn’t have whatever animal it is that they need to just sort of enjoy their dwelling and their life,” she said.
“The other thing we see is denial of a reasonable modification that’s a change to the structure – something like a wheelchair ramp. Or maybe grab bars in the shower. And those are the vast majority of cases that we do,” she said.