Program aims to help struggling homeowners

Published 12:31 pm Monday, September 15, 2008

You’re facing foreclosure and you need a guiding light.

But be careful and don’t make another mistake or make your situation worse. Choose your lifeline carefully.

That’s the advice of Tom Calhoun, who since April has watched first hand the housing crisis as one of those involved with the state-initiated Save the Dream program.

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Save the Dream’s goal is to keep homeowners in their homes whether it means giving budgeting advice or playing negotiator in getting a loan modification.

“We’re somebody to talk to that isn’t going to charge them a fee,” Calhoun said. “The very people with these troubles are being contacted by phone by predators. One of the first things I say is don’t enter into another financial relationship until you figure out the credibility of those trying to help you.”

It’s only 5 months old, but already the Save the Dream program has offered lifelines to many in Lawrence County who were facing the loss of their home.

The reasons they’re in this situation range from unexpected and excessive medical bills to predatory loans to over-inflated house appraisals.

Currently, there are approximately 15 families in Lawrence County getting assistance from the Athens-based Corp. for Ohio Appalachian Development. COAD offers foreclosure help for 17 counties including Lawrence, which makes up close to 8 percent of its referrals.

The demographic of those needing help goes across the socioeconomic board from single mothers to the recently widowed unable to keep up payments on a home equity loan, Calhoun, housing program manager with COAD, says.

“We are getting people from all over — Kitts Hill, Proctorville, Ironton itself, South Point,” Calhoun said. “It doesn’t happen (in Lawrence County) in the density as it does in the big city. Sometimes a young couple have bought that doublewide and they’re losing it. Sometimes an elderly couple have gotten a home equity loan to help the kids.

“This isn’t a low income phenomenon. Some people knew they were getting into a bad situation. Some people only thought they were getting a home.”

No matter what the reason, the first thing is to get counseling. That’s where the Save the Dream program comes in.

“Put it down in black and white and look at your budget,” Calhoun said. “We listen to their story and then work out a budget. We try to get them to be real about their budget. A lot of folks don’t want to admit what they pay for entertainment or groceries.”

Sometimes the program can offer rescue loans of up to $3,000 to aid in bringing the homeowner current with what he owes. Other times counselors can go into negotiations with the lender. They will also look for other possible income resources from something as simple as getting help through a local CAO for weatherization. The resulting savings in energy bills can go toward mortgage payments.

Whatever the situation, getting help early is the best strategy, Calhoun says.

“The best thing is to call us before they’re behind on mortgage payments,” he said. “Most people call after they’re three or four months behind. It is really a form of denial. They think this can’t be happening.”