Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Op-Ed Columns

Help clean up mess in housing

America's foreclosure crisis continues to drag down the national economy and Toledo neighborhoods. There is plenty of blame to go around for the causes of the mess and why it isn't fixed. Only a holistic approach will clean up the mess.

Foreclosure filings have decreased nationwide this year. But a drive down Indiana Avenue makes clear that the decline hasn't made a big difference in Toledo.

Lucas County still has one of the highest foreclosure rates in Ohio. According to RealtyTrac, 3,556 homes were in foreclosure in the county in June.

That number is likely to increase. So it hardly seems time to slash federal funding for foreclosure prevention programs.

Yet legislation proposed by Republicans in the U.S. House does not allocate a single dime for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to counsel homeowners -- before they buy a house, after they buy, or when they're in danger of foreclosure.

Such counseling prevents foreclosures and helps homeowners get more affordable and sustainable mortgage solutions than they could if they had to fend for themselves. But House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio refuses to support these programs, even though his district suffers from one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state.

The funding cut also would leave more room for mortgage scam artists to prey on desperate homeowners who are willing to pay thousands of dollars in the false hope of saving their homes.

President Obama recently conceded the White House had not done enough to help homeowners cope with the foreclosure crisis. So now his administration is offering unemployed homeowners a year of relief from mortgage payments while they look for work.

Ohio is among the states hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Last year, the state got $570 million to help homeowners keep their homes through the Restoring Stability program.

The program provides as much as $15,000 in temporary mortgage aid to homeowners who collect unemployment benefits and other qualified borrowers who struggle with unaffordable mortgage payments. Yet only a fraction of the money available under the program has been awarded.

If you need help to save your home, call 419-464-9885 or go online to restoringstability.org for information about the program.

Mortgage lenders have paid lip service to the need to help struggling homeowners, but few have taken bold steps to fix the problem. These steps include principal reduction, so that homeowners aren't stuck owing more than their homes are now worth.

At the same time, homeowners need to stop being victims. If you're having trouble paying your mortgage, you're not alone. Maybe you've lost your job, your mortgage company made a mistake, or you've tried to solve your problems on your own without success.

Free help is available from government-certified, nonprofit housing counselors such as Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People. Counselors can help you sort through the paperwork, government programs, and mortgage rules to find a solution you can afford.

What about all the local houses that are vacant and deteriorating because of the foreclosure crisis? The Lucas County Land Bank is taking control of many of these properties to get them back to productive use.

The land bank is dedicating its resources to tearing down the worst homes. It is working with neighbors, community development groups, and other institutions to save properties that can be rehabilitated. It offers necessary tools to deal with this problem.

Neighborhood residents can organize to address issues that affect their communities. Groups such as Central City Citizens are seeing results, from getting empty houses torn down and tall grass cut to working with police to combat crime. Join them, or start your own community group.

Maybe you're struggling to keep your home, watching your neighbors lose theirs, or paying your mortgage while your home's value plummets. You might not have caused this mess. But we're all in it together now, and everyone can help to clean it up.

Inez Killingsworth is board president of Empowering and Strengthening Ohio's People, a foreclosure prevention counseling agency headquartered in Cleveland. Wade Kapszukiewicz is Lucas County Treasurer.

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