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Future Looks Grim for Housing Counselors

August 1, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. - HUD Housing counselors help struggling homeowners stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. As the housing crisis continues in Virginia, their services have never been in more demand - but their funding well is about to run dry. Federal funds for housing counselors were eliminated for the 2011 fiscal year, and states have been using leftover money.

Abigail George is a housing counselor with Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME). She says the need to help homeowners deal with banks is critical. Counselors often work directly with lenders to help the homeowner with the entire process.

"A lot of the mortgage companies really appreciate the work we do because we help them. When they go through a housing counselor, they know they are going to get the complete package they need, so it helps them, as well, to be more expedient."

George says the flow of homeowners seeking assistance has been steady, and she has seen a higher number of people coming in who have already been foreclosed upon. Her agency works to get foreclosure dates postponed in order to review and work on other options, such as loan modifications.

For Andre Jones, a disabled veteran who was about to lose his Stafford home to foreclosure last year, housing counselors were a "godsend." He says he was passed around from one department to another for months, before getting the help of a counselor who was able to cut through the red tape to help secure a loan modification.

"They were able to accomplish a great deal more than I had in a two-year process. No doubt, I would have lost my home."

Sheila Crowley is president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She says the elimination of the housing counselor program by Congress, which cut $88 million, was shortsighted - especially given the housing crisis.

"The costs to the country and the costs to neighborhoods and the costs to individual families for foreclosures going forward really far exceeds that."

Crowley adds that the likelihood of funding levels being restored for HUD-related programs is remote, given the current political climate in Congress.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA