warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Homeowners Facing Foreclosure Appeal To Lenders For Relief

Aaron Liu |
April 17, 2013 | 7:59 p.m. PDT

Senior News Editor

Mark Foster, a volunteer at the event, is also a realtor who negotiates loan modifications with struggling clients. He himself is also facing foreclosure on rental properties. For him, the process has taken a turn for the absurd. (Photo by Aaron Liu)
Mark Foster, a volunteer at the event, is also a realtor who negotiates loan modifications with struggling clients. He himself is also facing foreclosure on rental properties. For him, the process has taken a turn for the absurd. (Photo by Aaron Liu)
Elizabeth Gutierrez went to the Los Angeles Convention Center on Tuesday with the hopes that a face-to-face meeting with her bank would make a difference with her mortgage bills.  

She walked out the door with mixed feelings. The bank had proposed a balloon payment -- lowering her rate but concentrating the bulk of her debt into her last bill.

"They did modify my loan but I don't like how they've redone my repayment," said Gutierrez.

Despite her initial reservations, her bank told her not to dismiss the deal without giving it some thought. 

"They told me to look at it differently -- the market might go up, there's always programs to help you with these payments," said Gutierrez. "I'm going to have to gather my thoughts and think about the offer."

As Gutierrez walked out of the Convention Center, others stood in line, each hoping they too could set up new terms for their mortgages so that they could keep their homes. They were waiting to meet with representatives from Bank of America, Chase, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Citi Mortgage, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and a slew of other financial institutions that had gathered for a "Hope for Homeowners" event to offer free mortgage assistance to people at risk of foreclosure. Some, like Gutierrez, qualified for loan modifications or federal assistance. Others left the room empty-handed. They all, however, had a chance to appeal to their bank about their financial situation in person, rather than through phone or machine.

"I tell people there's a tremendous peace of mind that comes with talking about your options," said Andrea Risotto, a spokesperson for the US Treasury Department and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who flew out from Washington D.C. to attend the event. Risotto emphasized that many of the conversations taking place in the Convention Center were happening for the first time. 

"50 percent of people who come here have never reached out for help before," said Risotto. "We usually see about a third of the people leave with a solution in their hands."

According to Brad Dwin, a spokesperson for the HOPE NOW alliance, more than 6 million people have received some form of loan modification since the recession. Yet loan modification can still be a tedious process. 

"So many people who go underwater, when they try to refinance they simply don't have the equity to put on the table," said Dwin. "You have to look at it case by case." 

Anahid "Annie" Ayuazian, a small business owner from Pasadena, has unsuccessfully tried to modify her loan several times. Two years ago, Ayuazian's business had taken a turn for the worse she suddenly found herself unable to keep up with a six-point fixed mortgage she took out in the early '90s.

"My husband is disabled, I have two kids and I am the only one who's working in the household," said Ayuazian. "If I cannot afford to pay off my loan, then I have to give up my home."

"Then where do I go?"

Hundreds line up inside the Convention Center on Tuesday for a chance to modify their mortgages. (Photo by Aaron Liu)
Hundreds line up inside the Convention Center on Tuesday for a chance to modify their mortgages. (Photo by Aaron Liu)
Like Gutierrez, Ayuazian was hoping that a face-to-face meeting with her lender could help lower her monthly payments.

It didn't.

"They couldn't do anything," said Ayuazian. "I've been trying to modify my loan for two years, and it's still the same thing."

In tears, Ayuazian headed for the exit. She walked past Mark Foster, a volunteer with "Hope for Homeowners" conducting exit questionnaires with people about their experience. Foster, a realtor in the Sacramento area, is also trying to modify his own loans and has come to know the frustrations surrounding the process all too well.

"I've had rental properties that I've been trying to modify for a year-and-a-half," said Foster. "I've had homeowners on the phone with me while I'm on the phone with my bank."

For Foster, his foreclosure proceedings have taken an absurd turn.

"Initially my bank modified me with a higher payment than my actual payment was," said Foster. "I turned it down, so they sped up my foreclosure process."

He then tried to contact his bank through the phone. "Finally got a hold of somebody, like the sixth or seventh person I talked to, who said, 'Look -- just send your package in again and it'll start over. They won't even know.'"

Foster laughed.

"The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," he said.

He's come to realize there are solutions that exist for homeowners other than loan modifications and short-selling property and wants others to know about these options as well. For people, like Ayuazian, who walked out of the convention center without a deal, Foster tells them to look into assistance from the federal government and private non-profits like the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), an advocacy group dedicated to fighting predatory mortgages.

"When I talk to people here, I know exactly what they're going through," said Foster.

Gutierrez, meanwhile, finishes her exit questionnaire and tells the volunteer that she had a positive experience. Despite her concerns with her new modification, she was glad she came to see them in person.

"The meeting was comforting," said Gutierrez. "They seemed to show compassion."

Meanwhile, Risotto heads back into the room and chats with a colleague. She then heads to her booth to check her phone. Risotto signed on with the Treasure Department in 2009 and has been busy flying out to events like this one ever since. 

"I've been to more than 70 of these events," said Risotto. "I've been to California for probably 15 of them. Last month we were in Las Vegas. Next month we'll be in Chicago." 

Homeowner events in California usually draw long lines, said Risotto, and Tuesday's event was no exception. High unemployment, a high number of subprime mortgages before the financial crisis and steep price declines in housing had all come together in 2008 and made California one of the hardest hit states during the recession.

"There are still many families that are struggling and haven't gotten the hope that they need," said Risotto.

Reach Aaron Liu here.



 

Buzz

Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.

 
ntrandomness