Officials Try Education to Curb Foreclosures

Columbus Dispatch - October 6, 2005

Columbus Dispatch

by Jill Riepenhoff

As state lawmakers chew on ways to stem Ohio’s foreclosure problems, community and government leaders are reaching out to Franklin County homeowners on the verge of losing their houses.

The Franklin County treasurer’s office has compiled a list of organizations able to help financially troubled home buyers and is training its staff to field calls.

A nonprofit law firm, Equal Justice Foundation, wants to hold foreclosure clinics twice a month in which homeowners can learn
about legitimate options instead of relying on companies that solicit clients by mail and promise, for a fee, to take care of their problems.

“They need another voice talking to them other than the foreclosure rescue people saying, ‘We’re going to save your life,’ ” staff attorney Rachel K. Robinson said.

The leaders also are looking for a pot of money to teach people about financing mortgages and to help the most desperate keep their houses once in default.

At the heart of the effort is the Columbus Urban League, which this summer assembled a group of civic, banking and government leaders to help craft programs and solutions to the state’s foreclosure crisis.

Ohio leads the nation in the percentage of homeowners losing their houses because they can’t pay their mortgages. In Franklin County, foreclosures have spiked nearly 300 percent in the past 10 years, said Wendy Patton, policy liaison for Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit research group in Cleveland.

Some solutions to the foreclosure tide rest with state lawmakers, who are debating the merits of including mortgage brokers and lenders in a law banning deceptive sales practices.

The Urban League is taking on the role as an advocate for increased access to home-buyer education and foreclosure intervention. Until now, there hasn’t been a coordinated, countywide effort to link troubled homeowners with help.

Many home buyers who fall behind on their payments ignore telephone calls and letters from their lenders demanding payment, feeling trapped or hoping the problem will vanish.

“They don’t even think to question if there are options,” Robinson said.

The Franklin County treasurer’s office often hears from homeowners facing foreclosure because their taxes have become delinquent, too.

“It certainly seems some foreclosures are stemming from some systematic problem,” Treasurer Richard Cordray said. “Buyers are being pushed to do as much as they can and maybe a bit more. That’s a big problem.”

Cordray encourages those in trouble to call his office so that his staff can direct them to agencies able to help. “We can and will and should do everything we can to help,” he said.

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