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HAC in the News

HAC'S foreclosure counselors provide a help desk for Cape homeowners in peril

Posted on Sun, Jan 23, 2011

HYANNIS — Lined up along one wall of Carla Roy's compact office are seven filing cabinets, each with four drawers. And all of those 28 drawers, she said, are filled with files, each representing a household she is trying to help stave off foreclosure.

"I have more than 1,000 clients in various stages of getting their mortgages modified or other actions," she said, pulling open a drawer to reveal file after file of tightly packed paperwork.

Roy is a foreclosure prevention counselor, one of three who work at the Housing Assistance Corp., or HAC, in Hyannis.

And for the past couple of years, her job has been a very busy one.

Over the past two years, nearly 2,900 households on Cape Cod have had foreclosure proceedings begun against them, according to numbers from Boston-based real estate data firm The Warren Group. And many more have been struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments.

Roy's job is to help them assess their options and pursue the one that is best for their individual financial situations, hopefully saving their homes in the process.

"My goal is to have everyone that leaves my office leave with their dignity and a better understanding of all of their options regarding their mortgage and the foreclosure process," she said.

The services are open to anyone who is concerned about his or her ability to pay the mortgage, even if no formal foreclosure proceedings have started. HAC is approved to conduct this counseling by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its services are free of charge. The foreclosure prevention program is funded by federal grants.

On a recent Wednesday, Roy began her day by leading a one-hour group information session with six people worried about possible foreclosure. The group meetings were instituted this month, as a way of getting basic information to potential clients more efficiently.

But they have also proven to have another impact, Roy said.

"It's like group therapy," she said before the meeting.

"You realize you're not alone in the process," she told that morning's attendees. "I don't want anyone to be embarrassed or ashamed."

The meeting included households in all stages of the foreclosure process. One woman was still current on her mortgage payments, while other participants had already received early warnings of pending foreclosure from their banks. One household landed in trouble when its home value dropped precipitously, eating up nearly $100,000 in equity.

Roy told participants that their situations were largely due to circumstances outside their own control: plummeting home values, soaring unemployment and reduced earnings. At the same time, however, she refused to lash out at lenders.

"I do not throw the banks under the bus," she repeated several times.

The goal, she said, is practical solutions and saving clients' homes, not blame and anger.

During the meeting, Roy explained the available options. Refinancing, repayment plans, forbearance and short sales are all possibilities, she said, but the most promising route is usually a mortgage modification.

Many lenders, she said, are participating in the federal Making Home Affordable program, which allows qualified households to reduce their monthly payments to 31 percent of their monthly gross income.

A few attendees said they had already tried to get a modification but had hit dead ends. Roy explained that small errors or omissions on the modification application could trigger a denial. "That's not going to happen anymore on my watch," she promised.

She also emphasized the importance of avoiding unnecessary spending and eschewing credit cards.

"You need to get rid of that addiction, and that addiction is spending," she said.

As she wrapped up the meeting, she set times for each of the participants to come back for a one-on-one meeting to address their individual cases. Most of the appointments were set for the first week of February.

This quick turnaround is a point of pride for Cheryl Kramer, program coordinator for the Housing Assistance Corp.'s Housing Consumer Education Center.

"Our counselors are typically seeing people within two to three weeks," she said.

Following the morning meeting, Roy meets with individual clients. She doesn't take a lunch break, which she says would impair her focus on the work.

The individual meetings involve collecting and reviewing a lot of paperwork: insurance statements, tax returns, pay stubs, utility bills.

To prevent clients from getting lost in the maze of paper, Roy makes them careful lists of what items they still need to find and bring in. She calls it their "homework."

She is matter-of-fact with her clients, offering neither pity nor criticism. She tells clients what they need to so, but expects them to do it themselves, she said.

"I am not going to call the bank for you," she said. "I am always putting the ball back in their court."

Yarmouthport resident Steve Gallant was referred to Roy by his attorney when Gallant filed for bankruptcy last year. After trying to obtain a modification on his own, he came in to meet with Roy in December.

"I feel like I have known her for years now," he said.

His modification seemed to be on track last week; his lender needed just a few more documents to approve the arrangement.

Following her afternoon meetings, Roy planned to enter client updates into the computer system and answer e-mails.

Opening her inbox, she revealed dozens of new messages, most of which were from clients. And, she said, she expected to stay until she had answered all of them. "I try not to leave the office until I answer every e-mail," she said.

Often, Roy said, she doesn't leave the office until 7 or 8 p.m. Despite the long hours and extensive paperwork, she said, she loves her job.

"It is pretty uplifting," she said, "because there is a light at the end of this tunnel."

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Counseling and Education at HAC

Foreclosure prevention counseling
Reverse mortgage counseling
Homebuyer education classes
Financial literacy workshops
Rebuilding credit classes
Smart tenancy workshops

More information is available at www.haconcapecod.org or by calling 508-771-5400.