A professional, effusive but urgent tone takes over. (David and Rebekah did not want their last names used because of the stigma of facing foreclosure.)
The couple’s case is just one on a packed schedule one day in recent months. David was hurt in an accident at a company retreat, and since then his life has been at a standstill. Because of his lack of income, he and his wife face foreclosure.
They have lived in their Prince William County home for more than a decade and didn’t believe in selling when values increased. He’d just buy the home and “live there, die and that’d be it,” David said.
It’s Wednesday. Their home is scheduled to be auctioned in five days, and Watkins-Byrd is all that stands between them and eviction.
Desperate need for funds
As of a few months ago, there were just three Department of Housing and Urban Development-certified counselors such as Watkins-Byrd in the county, according to Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), an advocacy group made up of Northern Virginia religious leaders that focuses on housing issues in Prince William.
Some good news, however, has arrived for First Home Alliance and other groups focused on foreclosure mitigation counseling. Watkins-Byrd’s group was recently awarded a $72,000 grant from Bank of America, allowing it to bolster her salary and hire another part-time counselor, said Larry Laws, the organization’s executive director.
The counselor will be in training for about a year, because certification requirements are onerous, Laws said. In the meantime, Laws hopes Bank of America will provide more funding for next year so he can put the new counselor to work.
Without more funding, “I’ll be back in the situation I was in three months ago,” Laws said.
Funding for five more counselors — or $363,000 total in grants from Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and General Electric — has been committed to Prince William agencies in recent weeks, a result of a push by VOICE leaders to hold banks accountable for the housing crisis.
Based on the population, and the fact that about half of all Prince William homeowners owe more than their homes are worth, some would like to see about 15 housing counselors in the county, which was hit hard by the 2008 foreclosure crisis. Although Prince William’s housing market and economy have markedly improved, many homeowners are still dealing with the crisis’s aftermath.
Studies have shown that homeowners are less likely to go into foreclosure with a housing counselor advocating for them. A study released by HUD recently showed that with the help of a counselor, 70 percent of homeowners were able to find a solution to stay in their homes, and 56 percent caught up on their mortgage payments.