Foreclosure need not be owners’ fate

Housing group offers help to struggling homeowners

Foreclosure filings in La Plata County remain more than 10 times what they were in the two decades before the real-estate bust, making it clear many local homeowners are still struggling.

La Plata County Treasurer Ed Murray said about 250 new filings are expected in 2012, down slightly from the previous three years.

“We may have peaked in 2010 (at 324),” he said, “but the numbers are still too high.”

Between 1986 and 2006, by comparison, the county averaged about 20 new filings annually, according to Housing Solutions for the Southwest, a nonprofit group.

Despite the grim picture, housing advocates want residents to know there is help, including new options for homeowners facing foreclosure. Helping struggling homeowners will be the topic of a presentation Thursday evening at the Durango Public Library. Housing Solutions counselor Clark Haggard will lead the one-hour seminar.

Many embattled homeowners, Haggard said, resort to default prematurely, before knowing all their options.

“Almost all my clients want to keep their homes, but they think they have no choice except to give up and move on,” he said.

Making Home Affordable, a federal program under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, restructures mortgage terms to lower monthly payments and interest rates. More people will qualify for assistance starting in June, when expanded eligibility rules will take effect. The changes specifically target the unemployed, landlords and families with so-called underwater mortgages.

Haggard said that while Making Home Affordable has helped about 6 million households avoid foreclosure since 2009, 80 percent of applicants were denied because of then-stricter criteria and a cumbersome approval process full of paperwork and phone calls.

“Dealing with the banks can be frustrating,” he said. “The loan-modification process can take six to eight months, and waiting around while default is looming can be frightening.”

Housing Solutions offers free, personalized consultations and expertise for those trying to navigate the complexity.

Haggard said his organization has seen a sharp increase in clients since the financial crisis began, but it is still underused relative to the region’s number of struggling homeowners.

“My talk is broad in scope, intended for everyone under the sun,” Haggard said. “Not only homeowners and landlords, but also Realtors, attorneys, church and social organizations – anyone who understands that foreclosures are a huge issue and wants to point people in the direction of help.”

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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