By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Marquita Fell of Montgomery County spends half of her salary on her mortgage. At that rate, she said, she will never make a payment on time.
Alice, a single mother from Prince George's County, said she is two months behind on her mortgage. She can't afford her current payment, but her bank will not renegotiate her loan and has threatened to foreclose, she said.
These were two of the stories shared recently with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and other state officials in Prince George's during a foreclosure prevention workshop designed to help housing officials learn what homeowners on the brink of foreclosure are experiencing, provide homeowners an update on the state's efforts to prevent foreclosures and encourage troubled homeowners to seek assistance.
"There is no shame in seeking help," said Raymond A. Skinner, secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development. "If anything, the shame may lie in not seeking help."
O'Malley said the state launched a hotline last year that has fielded more than 25,000 calls from homeowners across the state. Counselors on the hotline have helped more than 6,800 people avoid foreclosure, he said.
"I know we still have a lot of work to do," he added.
Maryland created a task force in 2007 to find ways to preserve and promote homeownership. Its recommendations led to some of the most sweeping pieces of legislation to address the foreclosure crisis in the country. The initiatives included emergency regulations that extended the amount of time before a home goes into foreclosure and tougher penalties for those involved in illegal mortgage schemes.
With one-third of the foreclosure cases in the state, Prince George's has been hit hardest by the housing crisis. But the governor said no county is immune.
According to a first-quarter report by the state, Maryland had 9,320 "foreclosure events," which include default notices, bank purchases and notices of sale, between January and April.
Montgomery had 1,639 foreclosure events, or 17.6 percent of the state's total; Charles County had 350, or 3.8 percent of the total; and St. Mary's County had 76, or 0.8 percent of the total.
Thomas Perez, secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, implored homeowners to seek the right help. He said too many people are going to con artists who illegally ask homeowners to pay money to help them stay in their homes.
For example, Fell, a single mother, said she paid a company $1,300 to save her home. The company suggested that she stop tithing to her church. She said her lender now wants to take her home for $36,000.
"If they want my house for $36,000, they can take it," she said. "But I need a place to stay."
Fell and Alice were directed to counselors and lawyers to offer them help.
Perez said homeowners should contact the state or go to HUD-approved homeownership counseling agencies, which do not charge for their services. "We can't help you if we don't know about you," he said.
One of the challenges, O'Malley said, is that people wait too long to ask for help, which is why the state has coined its public service advertising campaign around the phrase "Mortgage Late? Don't Wait."
Anyone who is facing foreclosure should visit the state site http://www.mdhope.org or call 877-462-7555 for assistance.
The state has partnered with the Maryland Bar Association, the Pro Bono Resource Center and Baltimore-based Civil Justice Inc. to train more than 700 lawyers to assist homeowners at workshops, advise nonprofit agencies or work on individual cases.
But despite these efforts, Maryland saw a rise in the number of foreclosures filed in the first six months of this year.
There were more than 18,100 foreclosures filed in Maryland in the first six months of this year, a nearly 3 percent increase from the same time last year, according to state data.
"We didn't get into this overnight, and we won't get out of it overnight, either," said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who joined the governor.