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Foreclosure Prevention Workshop Brings Hope to South Side Community

Story by: Regan Crisp

May 4, 2009 – Chicago homeowners have suffered greatly from the mortgage crisis.

According to the Woodstock Institute, property foreclosures in Chicago increased by 85 percent between 2005 and 2007, and aren’t expected to peak until late 2009. Many of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the city are also receiving funding through Local Initiatives Support Coalition/Chicago’s New Communities Program (NCP), the nation’s largest comprehensive community development program.

In Auburn Gresham and Englewood, where foreclosures are high, the NCP and local community organizations have decided to fight back.

Every Thursday, now through September, Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) in Auburn Gresham is offering free foreclosure prevention workshops, including counseling and an information session with a housing expert. The workshops are 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the NHS offices, 449 W. 79th St.

The effort, primarily funded through NCP and a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, has given frightened homeowners an opportunity to educate themselves about foreclosure prevention, and maybe a chance to keep their homes while protect themselves from even more debt.

The workshops aim to work through the embarrassment that comes with the threat of foreclosure, to bring the issue out in the open and to educate local residents – many who have been victims of predatory lenders and dishonest legal counsel.

“People don’t like talking about their financial problems, especially to strangers,” said Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GADC). “And sometimes people don’t know that they’re experiencing danger.”

Nelson and the GADC are using the MacArthur grant to fund outreach work, using noisemakers, signs and brightly colored T-shirts to catch the attention of local residents at block clubs and other community gatherings. Giant cardboard signs bearing a picture of a boarded-up house read “Save Your Home” and list a phone number for NHS, along with information about the workshops.

“It’s kind of a roving tent revival-style approach,” said Nelson. “This sign is really to say ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’”

So far, the effort has worked. An April 2 workshop was packed with local residents. Latecomers were left with standing room only during housing counselor Sandra Well’s information session, which offered the when, why and how of home foreclosure, as well as the basics of forbearance and how to gain more time before having to move.

As Wells explained the reasons for foreclosure, loss of income being the main cause currently, workshop attendees slowly began to speak up and tell their own stories of dubious lenders and unforeseen Adjusted Rate Mortgages (ARMs).

“If you have money, any kind of money, save it towards your mortgage,” said Wells, warning that the longer homeowners wait to pay, the more expensive it becomes, and non-negotiable legal fees will only mean more debt later on. Wells also strongly advised residents not to pay any money to those promising to get them out of debt. Most of the time, dealing with forbearance or organizing payments is something homeowners can do themselves or with free counsel from an agency accredited by the city.

“Be aware of the scams,” Wells said. “Question people that are wanting to get money from you to provide the service.”

Residents at the workshop could also sign up for a counseling session afterward, which many took advantage of.

In Auburn Gresham, where 60 percent of the population is 50 or older, many homeowners have lived in their homes since the 1960s and ‘70s, and have only recently fallen into debt and fear of foreclosure. Nelson said lenders have preyed on the neighborhood’s seniors, many of whom inhabit historic bungalows throughout Englewood and Auburn Gresham. He and the GADC have reached out to community groups, churches and preachers in the hope that the workshops will help older residents and young families, whom the GADC has worked hard to bring into Auburn Gresham, from losing their place in their neighborhood.

“At the end of the day, this issue will subside,” said Nelson, adding that he thinks the efforts by the GADC and NHS should be replicated in other neighborhoods around the city to help eradicate a widespread problem.

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