Counselors help New Hampshire homeowners work with lenders, avoid foreclosure
More than 800 households statewide turned to foreclosure counselors through HomeHelpNH last year, seeking advice as they fought to keep their homes.
And with that free guidance, about 90 percent of those homeowners were able to avoid foreclosure by bringing their mortgages current, modifying their loans or selling their homes to move to more affordable housing, the state Housing Finance Authority has reported.
In its first year, the HomeHelpNH foreclosure counseling initiative has helped at-risk homeowners in New Hampshire make informed decisions about their options, said Jane Law, communications director for the state Housing Finance Authority.
“I don’t know that there’s a common question so much as there is a common need,” Law said. “And that is, ‘I want to stay in my home. How can I do that?’ Because every situation is different, the answer is going to be different for every person.”
Those counselors are paid for with a $3.5 million chunk of the National Mortgage Servicing Settlement – a joint agreement between the country’s five largest mortgage companies, the federal government and 49 states including New Hampshire. That money has been earmarked to fund these foreclosure counselors in New Hampshire for three years.
Before the state launched the initiative at the beginning of 2013, only five housing counselors in the state were working with foreclosures.
Now, 12 full-time counselors and other trained staff members at eight nonprofits handle these cases across New Hampshire. Homeowners can call the state hotline at 211 for help or turn directly to those nonprofits that offer counseling.
“So if someone called in and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be foreclosed on,’ or ‘I’m having trouble getting loan modifications from my lender, what can I do?,’ those counselors can work with those folks to achieve the best possible outcome,” Law said.
In the Concord area, HomeHelpNH services are provided by CATCH Neighborhood Housing. Executive Director Rosemary Heard said her organization has paired with NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, based in Manchester and Nashua, to offer counseling to the entire region.
“Sometimes the concern is that they haven’t reached out soon enough, and their house is about to be foreclosed on within days,” Heard said. “Sometimes the concern obviously is around employment and their ability to pay and their need to have their loan modified.”
No matter the circumstances, Heard said New Hampshire residents can rely on the state-sponsored counselors to be legitimate – a concern for some homeowners who have been scammed when looking for help in the past.
“I think that there’s a sense of trust when one is going to a group of counselors through 211 that you know are qualified, that you know are not going to charge you money. . . . I think there’s a credibility here with HomeHelpNH, and I think they should feel very comfortable that they get counselors who are skilled and who have the experience to do the job,” Heard said.
In 2012, there were 3,659 foreclosures in New Hampshire. In 2013, that number was down to 2,508 by the beginning of December.
“Unfortunately, there are some, there was no way to help them avoid a foreclosure,” Law said. “But in those cases, the other thing that counselor does is help them achieve that graceful landing.”
Law said that drop in foreclosures can be attributed to a better economy and a recovering housing market. But when a homeowner calls the 211 hotline or reaches out to an organization such as CATCH, Law said a housing counselor will coach him or her through working with a lender.
Even within days of foreclosure, a homeowner can find legal help at the 211 hotline that might delay losing his or her home.
“Even for one household to be able to remain in their homes is a success,” Law said. “To have so many more remain in their homes, I think is a great success for the program.”
In a statement yesterday, Gov. Maggie Hassan called HomeHelpNH an “innovative public-private initiative.”
“Thanks to HomeHelpNH, hundreds of New Hampshire’s middle-class families have received expert counseling to achieve the best possible outcome given their housing and financial situations,” Hassan said in her statement. “By remaining committed to providing our citizens with the tools and resources they need, we can continue to strengthen the health of our housing market, communities and economy.”
Both Law and Heard encouraged homeowners to call 211, visit homehelpnh.org or reach out directly to counselors through one of the participating nonprofits. CATCH Neighborhood Housing can be reached at 225-8835.
“As soon as you get behind in your mortgage, you should reach out for help,” Law said. “Once you hit that point where you’re 24 to 48 hours from the foreclosure actually happening, it takes a lot more effort, a lot more resources to halt that foreclosure and to even be able to see if you can save your home. So your options are much more limited the longer you wait.”
“Please reach out for help,” Heard said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)