By JIM PARKER
The Post and Courier
Residents such as these may be neighbors or friends. You may even be one.
They’re among the close to 4,000 Charleston area property owners who faced imminent foreclosures — unable to meet mortgage payments and edging perilously close to being tossed out of their abodes — yet pulled through at least in part due to a special program.
That enterprise is the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program, managed locally by North Charleston-based Family Services Inc.
Family Services this week publicized the program’s impact in greater Charleston from the time its local participation began in 2008 to the present. According to the group, financial counseling professionals met with more than 13,000 area families, couples and individuals in the past four years, keeping 3,877 homes from sliding into foreclosure.
“We are grateful to have had the opportunity and support to provide free licensed foreclosure prevention advocacy to thousands of families over the last few years,” says Debbie Kidd, director of Family Services’ locally-based Homeownership Resource Center.
Since its inception in late 2007, the federal program helped more than 1.5 million struggling homeowners countrywide while saving local governments, lenders and householders $920 million, according to Family Services. The average savings works out to more than $600 a homeowner, or close to $8 million in the Charleston area and state.
Even so, thousands of South Carolina homeowners are still at risk of losing their properties to foreclosure, according to the homeownership center. The group urges anyone facing financial challenges or default to get in touch with one of the center’s housing counselors. The guides provide homebuyer education, financial coaching and credit improvement services as well as foreclosure prevention counseling.
The center has assisted at least 30,000 people since its launch nine years ago and has helped create more than $7.5 million in direct community investments through first-time home purchases.
Kidd expects the center’s efforts aiding homeowners on the brink of losing their homes to continue into 2013. “Our goal is to reach any South Carolina homeowner who is at risk of foreclosure,” she says.
Some financially struggling homeowners are ineligible for the statewide Hardest Hit Fund, or SC HELP, but Kidd says the center can offer them foreclosure prevention counseling and assistance.
“We want homeowners to know (the center) is providing assistance throughout the state, even if they have been turned down for SC HELP,” she says.
Congress formed the foreclosure mitigation program in December 2007. NeighborWorks America, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit community development corporations, oversees the effort.
NeighborWorks on its website posted a Dec. 10 Congressional update on the program.
Among the highlights, the report disclosed that “reduction in income” was the top reason for homeowners to default on loans, with 37 percent of owners citing it.
Many householders were paying top dollar on their mortgages, the update detailed. A full 23.1 percent of the program’s clients were paying more than $2,000 a month on their home loans and another 17.4 percent were doling out $1,500-$2,000. Just 7 percent were paying less than $500 a month.
In several cases, the report highlighted statewide information. As of June 30, South Carolina ranked 17th in national foreclosures at 1.56 percent while receiving 1.9 percent of the assistance. The state placed 10th in help to rural areas and was fifth in legal assistance, which referred to “issues related to foreclosure, delinquency or short sales that cannot be handled by the counselor.”
Nationally, the program celebrated “an important milestone” when it reached 1.5 million homeowners assisted, NeighborWorks America chief executive Eileen Fitzgerald says.
She says the program wouldn’t have been able to save homeowners, local governments and lenders $920 million without the efforts of Family Services and similar groups.
“The program helps individuals and families regain their financial footing,” Fitzgerald says.
Family Services describes itself as one of the “leading human service companies” providing professional, financial, housing and health counseling services to South Carolina residents and businesses for more than 120 years.
Homeownership Resource Center, a division of Family Services, offers financial literacy education, homebuyer education and foreclosure prevention services.
For more information call 800-232-6489 ext. 7862 toll free, 843-735-7862 locally or visit www.fsisc.org.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Juanita Middleton, a bankruptcy attorney for South Carolina Legal Services, listens as Patricia Randle, of Summerville, explains her financial situation at a foreclosure prevention clinic held at Palmetto Land Baptist Church in 2010 (File/Brad Nettles/Staff)×