Agencies are well on their way to complying with HUD's Housing Counseling Certification Requirements final rule. As agencies work to get their counselors certified, they have developed best practices, compiled lessons learned, and shared their stories. The Office of Housing Counseling will continue adding success stories to this page as agencies go through the certification process.
While the housing counselor certification is a statutory requirement, it will also improve the quality and increase the visibility of housing counseling so that it is no longer a “best kept secret.” HUD expects that more knowledgeable housing counselors will lead to better identification of housing issues, more knowledgeable referrals and resolution of barriers, and a greater ability to recognize and avoid scams and discrimination. HUD’s housing counseling standards should reduce the fraud often seen in foreclosure prevention and real estate programs, such as scams and predatory lending.
This sample timeline shows the process for a counselor to become HUD certified and the expected timeframe for each step. The timeline includes post-exam steps in the FHA Connection, including applying for an FHAC User ID and having your employment verified.
Please note that this timeline is just a sample, and the timeframe for certification will vary based on several factors including the desired amount of study time for the counselor, how many times the counselor will take the exam to pass, and how long the organization takes to verify employment.
Roberta “Bobbie” McQuaid-Monou has been employed for 31 years by Senior Citizens United Community Services. In 1997, Bobbie began providing Reverse Mortgage Counseling and needed to pass the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) exam. Math was not Bobbie’s strong suit, so she thought the HECM exam was going to be very challenging, but took the test and was chosen among 35 people nationwide to participate in AARP’s Dream Team. It was a wonderful start. The first conference she attended was in New Orleans, right before Hurricane Katrina. The second conference was held in Washington, DC, and she took a train to DC on September 10, 2001. She will never forget where she was the following morning.
Testing every three years became a HECM requirement, and Bobbie shared that she hasn’t passed every time. However, she has persevered and always ended up passing.
When Bobbie learned about the Final Rule which created the requirement that every counselor must pass the Housing Counselor Certification exam, and that any agency which doesn’t have a Certified Housing Counselor cannot maintain their status as an approved Housing Counseling Agency, she was excited and energized to take the exam. She took the practice test and realized it would take a lot of studying, but she was committed. On March 12, 2020 Bobbie took the test and passed it on the first try!
Shortly thereafter, the world shut down due to the COVID-19 national emergency. Through all the crises Bobbie has counseled through, she has learned that no matter what, housing is essential and clients need the assistance of housing counseling agencies. She is proud to have her HUD certification and to continue working for a HUD-approved housing counseling agency.
When the housing counseling certification exam opened in August 2017, housing counselor Gwen Brown made it a point to start preparing immediately. The deadline was three years away, but, as a 24-year U.S. Navy veteran, Gwen Brown welcomed the certification requirement with open arms.
Every housing counseling agency has its own approach to preparing counselors to take the certification exam. At High Plains Community Development Corporation, executive director and housing counselor Rita Horse is leading by example. Located in rural Nebraska, the agency’s three housing counselors support a large geographical area filled with communities that are spread out across 65,000 square miles. As the only HUD-approved housing counseling agency in the area, their quest for certification isn’t just about checking off a box – it’s critical to the communities they serve.
Emails, courses, online sample tests, and study guides all consumed the offices and schedules of Denver Housing Authority’s three housing counselors, Kay, Teronda, and Charlotte, from the summer of 2018 through April 2019. The counselors wondered what their course of action would be to prepare for and pass the exam the first time around. After much discussion, they opted to not put the exam off any longer and scheduled their exams within two weeks of each other.
Since 1974, DHIC has demonstrated the importance of connecting people with safe, affordable, and desirable homes in the Triangle region of North Carolina. DHIC’s Homeownership Center (HOC) is an important part of DHIC’s portfolio of services. As a HUD-approved counseling agency, HOC provides group homebuyer education classes, financial capability, one-on-one pre-purchase counseling, postpurchase counseling, and access to down payment assistance programs. HOC is proud that all three of their housing counselors have passed the HUD Housing Counseling Certification Exam. To help you prepare, DHIC recommends you PREP: Prepare, Review, Educate, Positive.
Over the last year, HomeSource of NeighborImpact, which represents and serves economically disadvantaged residents in Oregon, has been working to prepare its housing counselors for HUD’s Housing Counseling Certification Exam. So far, two have passed! To encourage studying and preparation, HomeSource incorporated certification into counselors’ professional development plans and identified the end of FY 2019 as an agency deadline. With that end date in mind, each person developed their own timeline for passing the exam.
The Harford County Housing Agency staff agree: HUD’s videos, study materials, and practice tests, coupled with a commitment to study, make passing the exam possible for everyone. With a fully certified staff, their housing agency is well prepared and confident of their ability to provide excellent counseling to local citizens, resulting in better credit, more savings, and fewer foreclosures.
Since 1994, Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler, based in Elmira, New York, has provided quality housing counseling services in the rural Southern Tier Region of New York State. Two of this agency’s housing counselors, Jane Sokolowski and Amy Bell, passed the HUD Housing Counselor Certification exam on November 1, 2018 and have tips to share! In complying with the HUD Final Rule to certify housing counselors, this agency and its staff are raising the bar on professional competency and agency credibility and inspiring confidence in local consumers.
Pam Moore, Deputy Director at HomesFund in Durango, Colorado, passed the HUD certified housing counselor examination in one attempt after successful preparation efforts. Pam encourages housing counselors to prepare and get the test finished. She believes it was not overwhelming and that with some simple preparation and planning, it should be easy.
VHDA has challenged their HUD Housing Counseling network to get certified by July 15, 2019. As part of this effort, they are offering a virtual study group for support and an incentive to counselors who get certified by February 15, 2019 or by July 15, 2019. Individuals who provide counseling services at an agency that receives an FY 2018 HUD grant from VHDA are eligible to participate in the challenge. Participants of the challenge receive a gift card with varied amounts depending on the date they become certified.
HomeSource East Tennessee has been preparing its staff to take the HUD Housing Counseling Certification Exam ever since it was announced a few years ago. Early preparation included two of their counselors attending a training class offered by NeighborWorks called “HO200: Ready, Set, Prep: Tackling the HUD Counselor Exam” in 2016. This gave their housing counselors an overview of what might be included in the future exam. When the Final Rule was published at the end of 2016, the preparation continued.
Almost 90% of BALANCE’s housing counselors have passed the exam. To help you prepare, they summarized some lessons and learned and helpful tips about the process. They made the test a top priority but were nevertheless surprised by a few curveballs along the way.
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) has developed a unique program to support its 73 housing counseling agencies through the HUD Certified Housing Counselor examination process. PHFA recognizes there are two distinct costs associated with obtaining the certification: 1) The cost of the exam itself ($60 or $100, depending on where the exam is taken); and, 2) The cost associated with counselors’ study time, when they are not available to counsel clients. To account for this, after a counselor passes the certification exam, the housing counseling agency will be reimbursed for the cost of the exam (regardless of the number of times it takes the counselor to pass), plus the counselor’s hourly rate times the number of hours spent studying on agency time.
The following articles featured in The Bridge cover tips and best practices for certification: