State program helps homeowners

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 6, 2008

Foreclosure. One of the scariest words a homeowner can face.

And in Ohio, it’s a concept faced over and over in the past few years.

In 2007 the state ranked 6th in the nation with just under 90,000 properties in some aspect of foreclosure proceedings, according to data from Realty Trac Inc. In other words, one out of every 56 households in Ohio last year faced losing their home.

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And Lawrence County has not been immune to the crisis. Eight years ago, when Shawn Spencer, sheriff’s sale clerk, started at the courthouse, there were an average of 20 properties a year sold at the courthouse’s sheriff’s sales. In 2007, that number hit 240.

Now, the homeowner facing foreclosure is getting some help. That’s the goal of a new state program that may make reversing the prospect of losing your home as simple as dialing a toll-free number.

That magic number is the entry to Save the Dream, a multiple resource program that can introduce a partnership between the homeowner and a lawyer knowledgeable in foreclosure law.

“They will be getting advice if they qualify,” said Michelle Gatchell, spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

Among the possible options is that a homeowner may be eligible for “a loan modification that they can live with,” Gatchell said.

If such relief as that doesn’t appear to fit the homeowners’ situation, then they can be teamed up with a lawyer at no charge.

When a call is placed to the toll-free number, the caller goes into a call site at the Attorney General’s

Youngstown office. There eight to 10 liaison personnel will answer the call six days a week. Then they interview the prospective client to determine what services will benefit him or her.

The program’s official kickoff was April 1. On that day the center received 93 calls from across the state, Gatchell said. Currently, there are no statistics as far as program usage by county.

If the homeowner is from Lawrence County and needs legal aid, he will be matched up with someone from his home turf.

And the prospective client doesn’t have to be facing the imminent loss of his home. There are other scenarios that can be applicable.

“If they are not in foreclosure, but having trouble making payments or having difficulty with a lender,” said Ken Brown, director of public and media relations with the Ohio State Bar Association, “the earlier in the process they get help the better off they’ll be.”

Right now, the program continues to recruit lawyers who will do the pro bono work. Earlier in the year letters went out to all the lawyers in the state under the signature of the Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, Attorney General Marc Dann and Rob Ware, president of the Ohio State Bar Association.

“They sent the letter explaining the need, strongly encouraging the lawyers to get involved in this process,” Brown said. “There is a lot of pro bono work done in the state. But this is a particular need and the legal services folks have been trying to meet the need. But there are many more people needing help.”

So far 1,100 attorneys have responded saying they want to join the program. However, recruitment is on-going.

A month ago, an intense training session was held for those attorneys who wanted more information about foreclosure law.

“The training is not mandatory. Some have enough background to do this,” Brown said.

Attorneys who do want additional training can get DVDs of the sessions, plus books — all of which were developed in conjunction with the National Consumer Law Center.

“They brought their speakers to work with us and we have very detailed support books,” Brown said. “It has been pretty comprehensive.”

Attorneys who want to sign up for the contingent that will offer homeowners pro bono help can contact the state bar association through its Web site — There they can complete a survey that tells the bar the county where they have their practice and what counties they are willing to work for.

Then the bar adds that to a database that goes to the local legal services who will match up prospective clients with lawyers.

Homeowners have their own Web site at

“The provision of legal counsel is part of Save the Dream, but there is a whole lot more information and support available on this Web site,” Brown said. “This is not something that is going away in three months. The foreclosure matter will be something we will be dealing with for a long time.”

The Save the Dream hotline is 1-888-404-4674 and is available 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays.