Monday, April 28, 2014

Life after foreclosure: re-discovering the meaning of ‘home’

By Pam Bailey, NeighborWorks America blogger

We all know the story in numbers. A total of 4.9 million homes were foreclosed in the wake of the Great Recession and even today, close to 1.9 million mortgages are in serious delinquency. In February alone, 43,000 families lost their homes – albeit down 15 percent from the same month the year before. Then there are the more than a million other families who barely saved their homes, but typically after months of emotional turmoil. What the media don’t report, however, is how these families are coping a year or more later. Are they in better financial shape today? What lasting effects did their crisis have? What lessons learned would they share with others?

Every individual is different, of course. But the stories of five persons who sought help from  professionals participating in NeighborWorks’ National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) program offer a flavor of both the trauma that even a near-miss inflicts on families, and the ability of the human spirit – aided by the practical support of a trusted advisor – to bounce back.

Patricia Brown, Florida

Brown’s story is emblematic of many individuals and families who became victims of the Great Recession. One crisis has a nasty habit of being followed by others, and in Brown’s case it started with her divorce in 2011. Not too long after, she was laid off from her job as a nursing supervisor at an assisted-living facility, immediately causing her income to plummet. (She’s not alone. A loss of – or a significant reduction in – employment income was reported by 64 percent of persons seeking NFMC services.) Adding to the financial burden, her 43-year-old daughter became ill and moved in.

Persons seeking help from NeighborWorks America's
NFMC program often are struggling to cope with crises.
“The divorce wasn’t really a big deal, since I had always been the main breadwinner,” recalls Brown, who had lived in her North Lauderdale home for 17 years. “The biggest blow was the unemployment.  I was able to get some work as a private-duty nurse, but the pay just wasn’t enough and I fell behind on my mortgage payments.”

For a year, Brown tried to work with the mortgage company herself to negotiate a loan modification, but says she either received no response or kept getting the same forms to complete with no action. It didn’t help that her original lender sold her mortgage to another financial institution midstream. With foreclosure threats a daily worry, she remembers, “I was ready to just throw up my hands. I can’t even begin to tell you how stressed out I was.”

Then she was referred to Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida (NHSSF) by the county legal aid service.  And that’s when she says she “turned an emotional corner.” Olga Cuadra, the homeownership preservation counselor assigned to her at NHSSF, recalls that Brown had no knowledge of the foreclosure process or what lenders look for when reviewing requests for modifications. “Many people under-estimate the value of their assets and over-estimate their expenses,” explains Cuadra. “A big way in which we were able to help Patricia was to paint a better picture (on her application) of her ability to satisfy the terms of a modified loan.”

Brown was approved last September for a loan modification, which will lower her payments by more than $500 a month once she secures new mortgage insurance – enough of a difference to allow her to remain in her home. Although her daughter is still unable to work, and she herself is now hindered by a combination of health problems, they receive disability payments that they supplement with income from renting two rooms. It’s enough to keep up with Brown’s new, lowered payments.

“I never want to go through that again,” says Brown. “I don’t think I could have without the support of Olga and her organization. I’d come into her office a wreck, and I’d leave feeling much calmer. I learned not to give up on yourself; now I know that you can get through just about anything. And I learned to ask questions – and for help – if you’re in trouble!”

Has she held on to her belief in the value of homeownership, despite the stress of the past and the uncertainties of the future? Unquestionably, yes.

“This house is everything to my family. It’s home to us and we want to hang on to it. I may not know what the future holds, but it was worth the fight and if I had to do it all over again, I would.”

Next post: From ‘fixer-upper’ to foreclosure: Walter and Dorothy’s story. To receive it in your inbox, subscribe in the box in the right margin.