(NNPA)—As President Obama and Congress strive to resolve different priorities in the nation’s 2012 federal budget, some are proposing an end to the only federal program that provides valuable housing counseling to millions of Americans. Majority members of a House subcommittee seek to zero out the $87.5 million program offering at-risk services has helped serve more than 11 million Americans since 2006. The range of services offered benefit homebuyers, homeowners, renters, and the homeless.
Housing advocates are also warning against the likely scams that will result from the service void.
If allowed to be axed from the new budget, not only will thousands of people not be served; but thousands of housing counselors will be laid off and some local agencies could close their doors. Most importantly, the homeowners now facing foreclosure will no longer have qualified, reliable and free services in their local communities.
In response, housing advocates have only a few days to organize and present an online petition supporting preservation of the counseling services. Although, at press time, more than 2,000 people had signed the petition begun by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, (http:// www.change.org/ petitions/tell-congress-restore-housing-counseling-to-keep-people-in-their-homes), many more signatures will be required to overcome the proposed cut.
While many foreclosures have occurred in urban areas, there are signs that future scams will occur in suburbs as well. Just a few days ago, Supreme Court Justices in Nassau County, New York froze the multi-million dollar assets of two companies that demanded upfront fees in exchange for a promise to secure mortgage modifications. Reportedly, the firms took money from more than 1,000 families across the country.
In suburban Bucks County, Pa., Marci Polokoff, a counselor told her suburban paper, The Courier Times, “One of my biggest concerns, knowing all this funding is going away, [is that] a lot of scams are probably going to pick up because people aren’t going to get the free services that were out there. They’re grasping for straws trying to find somebody to help them. They’re not going to be educated not to [fall for scams].”
The According to the Coalition of HUD Housing Counseling Intermediaries, the need for housing services already exceeds current funding levels. A significant number of those served were senior homeowners. HUD data shows that 430,000 seniors were counseled on reverse mortgages as an option to preserve their financial independence.
Research from the Center for Responsible Lending confirms that from January 2007-2009, 2.5 million foreclosures were completed and an additional 5.7 million homes are in imminent risk of foreclosure. Additionally, the Federal Reserve Board, National Council on Aging, the Urban Institute, and the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard have all concluded that housing counseling is an important prevention against further foreclosures.
Currently, free federally-funded housing counseling services administered by local service agencies offer:
•Pre-purchase counseling and education for first-time homebuyers
•Post-purchase counseling and education for homeowners
•Reverse mortgage counseling for senior homeowners
•Renter counseling, including for families transitioning out of homeownership
•Counseling for homeless individuals and families seeking shelter or other transitional housing
With demonstrated consumer needs matched by respected research findings, it is indeed odd that some in Congress would prefer cutting proven services. But, this development is also an important reminder that ours is a participatory democracy. As citizens, we must stand up and speak to preserve what works for our nation.
(Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.firstname.lastname@example.org.)