Chapel Hill News

Triangle housing workshop could help people keep their homes

The Triangle housing market may be on the mend, but a free workshop Saturday will try to help those still struggling to buy or keep their homes.

Empowerment Inc. is expanding its focus to include foreclosures, as well as first-time homebuyers, executive director Delores Bailey said. The nonprofit has also hired a new housing counselor and an intake specialist using a three-year, $212,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money is part of $250 billion set aside when national banks repaid the federal bailout money provided in 2008.

“It’s about being educated about buying a home and being protected in your home,” Bailey said.

As an HUD-approved housing and financial counseling agency, Empowerment’s services are available to anyone in North Carolina. It soon will have three counselors.

Amanda Stancil, Empowerment’s housing counselor, said homeowners often don’t know where to turn when faced with a foreclosure.

“People just get caught up. They get notices in the mail, and they don’t realize there are free services they can go to for help,” she said.

Empowerment gets at least one call a week from someone desperate for help, Bailey said. Sometimes, the person has known about the pending foreclosure for months, which further hurts their chances of staying in the home.

For Saturday’s workshop, Empowerment will join the N.C. Housing Coalition, First Citizens Bank and the Land Loss Prevention Project, a Durham-based group founded by the N.C. Association of Black Lawyers to provide poor farmers and landowners with legal, social justice and financial services.

Participants will learn about buying a home and down payment assistance programs, foreclosure mitigation counseling, industry and policy changes, and home preservation tips. The workshop is for anyone interested in learning more about home ownership – not just people in foreclosure or those with lower incomes.

According to RealtyTrac, an online marketplace of foreclosed properties, the number of Orange County homeowners filing for foreclosure spiked in May to roughly 15. That number returned to the single digits in June. The last spike was in July 2012, when there were more than 20 filings.

RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist said Orange County is doing much better than the rest of North Carolina and the nation, although nationally, new foreclosures are at their lowest level in six years. A total of 801,359 U.S. property owners filed for foreclosure in the first six months of 2013.

Blomquist said many foreclosures were delayed after the Obama administration launched programs to ease the market crisis. Banks are starting to move on those properties now, he said.

“The market is improving, so the banks know they can get more money out of the market than they did three years ago,” he said.

He also advises homeowners in crisis to move quickly.

Lenders are looking out for their own interests, but most will help homeowners who are willing to work, he said. Just be careful to research your options and read the terms of any deal or program carefully, he said. It also is a good idea to talk over your options with a counseling agency or trusted, knowledgeable friend, he said.

It is not a good idea to make partial payments, no matter how large, he said.

“Sometimes that can backfire, even if you’re showing good faith,” he said. “You may not get full credit for it.”