Our region appears to be suffering from foreclosure fatigue. After dominating headlines since 2008, the mortgage crisis has all but disappeared from the news and the consciousness of the American public. But for the family down the street fighting to keep its home or searching for the next best alternative — and that family may be yours — the problem remains very real.
In fact, the continuing crisis affects us all, directly or indirectly.
The overall number of foreclosures in our region remains high, as banks take action on delinquent loans that have clogged their pipelines since before the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement. As of March, 6.5 percent of first mortgages in the Washington metropolitan area were in the process of foreclosure or at least 90 days delinquent, according to researchers at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, compared with 8.4 percent at the height of the foreclosure crisis in December 2009 and about 2.5 percent nationally before the crisis began. In some distressed neighborhoods in Prince William, Fairfax and Prince George’s counties, the number of filings is especially high. Housing counselors at the Hyattsville-based nonprofit Housing Initiative Partnership (HIP) saw 91 new clients in April — its busiest month ever.
For families at risk of losing their homes, panic has turned to frustration. Unable to trust their lenders, many bounce from agency to agency looking for reliable information. Misinformation is rampant. Mortgage “rescue” scams target homeowners who are more than 60 days behind on their mortgages, particularly seniors and families with limited English proficiency. Unscrupulous companies, offering deals that are just too good to be true, often charge exorbitant fees, stripping wealth and leaving homeowners closer to foreclosure than before.
In these situations, it’s critical to know who you can trust for help. The best answer: HUD-certified housing counselors, who focus on a family’s personal and financial well being, help them develop a budget they can live within and explain options when foreclosure is threatened.
One size does not fit all circumstances.
When Luis Rodriquez’s landscaping work dried up and he fell behind on his mortgage, a counselor with the Latino Economic Development Center helped the Olney resident save his home with a $200,000 principal reduction and a financial action plan to prepare for the future. In the case of one Filipino family who asked that their name not be used because relatives did not know of their situation, a short sale was the better long-term option — both financially and emotionally. It took courage to make that decision, says their housing counselor, Song Hutchins of Asian-American Homeownership Counseling. “The perception is that Asian Americans are doing well,” she said, “but, in reality, many of them own small businesses and struggle to make their mortgage payments.”
The housing crisis affected all income levels in all parts of our region. “We have seen every economic group, from owners of $125,000 condos to $1 million homes,” says Marian Siegel of Housing Counseling Services. “This is not a poor person’s issue or a minority issue, but one that impacts the entire community.” Even people who have remained current may see their property values drop as the number of foreclosures in the neighborhood increases. It continues to weigh on the region’s recovering housing market.
“It may appear that the market is coming back, especially in D.C. where we haven’t had any foreclosures in two years because of the District’s mediation law,” Siegel said. “We’re bracing ourselves for an onslaught.”
The Capital Area Foreclosure Network — a joint project of our organizations — is attempting to address the crisis on multiple levels. Its Web site includes a list of free, HUD-certified housing organizations. A bilingual hotline has served nearly 900 predominately Spanish-speaking callers since 2011.
There is cause for hope. While the foreclosure crisis continues, it doesn’t have to last forever. But finally bringing it to a close requires honest and reliable information to help families, and their neighborhoods, get and stay on the path to recovery. Let’s not forget them — or give up on them.
Russell K. Snyder is chair of the board of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington. Karen Lewis Young is chairwoman of the board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.