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March 13, 2013
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Summit County: FIRC approved as official foreclosure counseling site

Receiving a foreclosure notice on your house is never an easy thing. Paired with the complicated paperwork and terminology between bank and mortgage company that accompany it, it can be a nearly overwhelming experience. Fortunately, going through it alone isn't necessary. The Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) was recently certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a foreclosure prevention counseling site. This means that trained counselors are available to help walk homeowners through the process of preventing their foreclosure or, in cases when this is not possible, provide assistance with minimization of financial loss and relocation.While foreclosure counseling services aren't necessarily new to FIRC, the certification is, meaning that more specialized support is available for those who need it."There are a lot of benefits to being HUD approved," said Robert Murphy, community support manager at FIRC.One of these advantages is the ability to help more people with their foreclosure issues, as certain circumstances require that the counseling services homeowners are working with are HUD certified. The certification also proves that the site has the proper training and credentials work within the situation as well as familiarity with the process.

Four years ago, 300 homes in Summit County received foreclosure notice. It was around that time FIRC decided assistance in this area was needed, said executive director Tamara Drangstveit. "The families in the community are best served by helping people stay in their own home instead of being evicted through foreclosure," Drangstveit added.Foreclosure numbers increased to 350 in 2010, further emphasizing the difficulties faced by individuals within the county."We started to see more struggling homeowners and then we just sort of made the connection - at this point it seems like we're doing more and more housing counseling, both with renters and homeowners; we should look into official counseling operations," Murphy said.Since 2010 the numbers have dropped, going from 316 in 2011 to 264 in 2012. According to the Summit County Assessor's Office, this year is already doing much better from last year, with only 39 foreclosures opened to date as compared to 54 at the same time last year.The reasons for this decrease are hard to pinpoint exactly, said Summit County Treasurer and Public Trustee Bill Wallace. "I would hope it's that part of it is economy, people who were unemployed have found work. My guess is some of it has to do with second-home owners are a little bit more careful as far as how far they want to stretch themselves."Murphy mentioned the declining numbers while emphasizing the importance to continue offering foreclosure assistance. "They have been creeping down over the last two or three years," he said. "There's still a lot, though, and I know we could be helping out those folks. ... I would say we're always going to face significantly more demand from people that are struggling to afford rentals, who are potentially facing homelessness or are already homeless."The fact that FIRC focuses so much on assistance with the renting and homeless populations make it stand out from other housing counseling sites around the nation, Murphy said. "During the recessions, they started seeing a lot more cases where people were not able to save their homes and were potentially facing homelessness or having to transition to rental housing," he explained, so the counselors began to focus more on those types of situations. "With us, it's kind of the opposite. We had been traditionally helping out renters and people who were homeless or facing homelessness as a possibility. We already had lots of experience and background in that area."

The HUD certification process took FIRC around one year to complete and included hands-on experience in offering its services as well as training for employees. Though currently there is no completely standardized training for foreclosure counseling, sites that apply must demonstrate sufficient experience and training. FIRC was helped in this regard by NeighborWorks America, a national organization dedicated to assisting community development and providing affordable housing throughout the United States.Currently, FIRC has two counselors available in its foreclosure assistance program. While both have gone through training, there are countless opportunities for conferences and multi-day training sessions throughout the country, provided for housing counselors to improve their services. "That's a goal for us - to obtain the funding to send someone to a training," Murphy said. Another advantage to having HUD approval is it opens FIRC up to more grant and funding opportunities. This includes scholarships for employee training and certification, which may include specialized training to further reach people in need.

FIRC recommends that those facing foreclosure contact their housing counselor services as soon as possible in the process, as cases and applications can take months to complete, during which the foreclosure process isn't always postponed as the homeowner works with the counselor."Ideally, we would prefer to talk to people earlier in the process, before they get to the point where foreclosure has started," Murphy said.The process with the housing counselor includes filling out paperwork and going over the entire situation with the homeowner - financial situation, status of the loan, the mortgage company, etc. According to Colorado Foreclosure Hotline statistics from 2011, four out of five homeowners who met with a housing counselor after being referred from the hotline successfully avoided foreclosure.In some cases, however, the foreclosure may not be avoidable. "In those cases where there just doesn't seem to be any way that the homeowner can realistically stay in the home, then the focus becomes about minimizing the financial loss for the homeowner," Murphy said.The housing counselor will also help with relocation, working with the homeowner to find a solution for the next step. Depending on the situation, this could mean simply finding another house or moving to a different city or state."If somebody's got roots in the community and has been a longtime local and this is their home and has been their permanent home, we definitely would try to help them find a local option for new housing," Murphy said. "But because it's such an expensive place, and if someone is facing serious financial difficulties to the point that they've had to let go of a home that they purchased, the best option may be going somewhere else."

Aside from the help with paperwork and dealing with banks and mortgage companies, having housing counselors available can give homeowners peace of mind when dealing with a difficult situation that is often emotional."It can be a very confusing process," Wallace said. "To have someone whose job it is to counsel them and sit down and dig out phone numbers for them, yes, I think it's a very good service."FIRC is willing to offer whatever type of support is necessary, said Drangstveit."I think, for a lot of families that are on the precipice of foreclosure, it seems like a pretty hopeless situation," she said. "Having someone to sit down with them who understands the system, who can help a family look at their budget, who can help a family make a decision and give them some hope, is really the most fundamental thing that we do."


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The Summit Daily Updated Mar 13, 2013 12:26AM Published Mar 13, 2013 12:23AM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.