March/April 2019, Volume 7 Issue 08
Champion of Service: Cora Fulmore
“The amount of knowledge and level of sophistication a counselor has to have in order to address the needs of consumers is mind-boggling.”
Cora Gordon Fulmore
Founder, Diverse Resource Network (DRN), formerly The Counselor's Corner
Most housing counseling professionals will tell you that what they do is more than a job—it’s a calling. Cora Gordon Fulmore has made it her life’s work. An industry innovator, influencer, and outspoken advocate, she has earned her place at the top of her profession.
In keeping with Cora’s penchant for breaking new ground, she created Diverse Resource Network (DRN), the first online resource center for housing counseling professionals, in 2012. DRN boasts more than 5,000 members and has provided more than 80,000 hours of continuing education.
Fulmore began her housing counseling career in 1985, providing consumer credit and foreclosure counseling for a small nonprofit in Orlando, Florida. In more than three decades as a housing counseling professional, she has experienced a world of change in the housing counseling profession. But it’s obvious that two things remain the same: her passion for what she does and her commitment to those she serves.
Making a Monumental Impact
“I truly believe,” says Fulmore, “that this industry provides a bigger impact on the lives of families throughout the country than any industry out there. HUD-approved housing counseling agencies and their counselors touch every aspect of the life of a family, from guiding them through the homeownership process or protecting them from being taken advantage of by predatory loans, to helping them save their homes from foreclosure or getting a soft landing if they can’t. It reaches beyond homeownership to financial management, credit management, debt management, and sustainability—even something as simplistic as student loan counseling.”
The shifting tides in the housing and credit industries, Fulmore says, have dramatically transformed the way services are provided and the level of knowledge required to provide them. “Today you have so many facets of service being provided, the amount of knowledge and level of sophistication a counselor has to have in order to address the needs of consumers is mind-boggling. You’ve got to know all the intricacies of credit, how it affects one’s life, and be able to deal with every aspect of it—how people get into debt, what is too much debt, how to manage your debt and balance your budget. It’s about credit scoring and how credit scoring impacts the cost of credit. How do you deal with someone who’s overextended? What about collections and charge-offs?”
Training Takes Center Stage
A primary challenge for housing counselors today, says Fulmore, is not only acquiring such a wealth of knowledge but also continuously honing it to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers, the industry, and regulatory requirements. “Right now, we’re getting more people into homeownership. In that case, it’s how to qualify for an FHA loan, a VA loan, or a conventional loan. And if someone is facing foreclosure, you really need to know the law as it relates to your market, and how to assist. A lot of individuals come into this arena without specialized training in these areas. The industry is changing daily. That's why it's so critical that training be afforded to the industry so that they can stay abreast as the industry changes.”
According to Fulmore, the information and training available to counselors today is one of most significant changes in the housing counseling industry. “When I started,” Fulmore says, “the focus was basically credit counseling—not so much to help people get into homeownership, but mainly to retain it. There wasn’t the amount of structured training there is today, so I tried to gather as much know-how on my own as I possibly could, relying on the HUD Housing Counseling Handbook 7610.1 as my information resource or calling on our HUD representative for help dealing with problems.”
Fulmore went on to say, “Today, the amount of training HUD has made available to organizations large and small has been unbelievable. In addition, an enormous amount of data and material is right at our fingertips, enabling housing counselors to provide information it would take consumers months or maybe years to gain on their own. Now we can go to the HUD website and do a quick search to get all sorts of information that can help a new counselor or a seasoned counselor in doing their job.”
A Motivating Milestone
When asked what she would consider the biggest milestone in the ongoing evolution of housing counseling, Fulmore summed it up in one word: recognition. “When we had the foreclosure crisis,” she says, “we found that it was not just low-income families that need housing counseling; families at every income level sought out counseling. Those that chose to pay for it through a fee-for-service type environment often found themselves going back to a HUD-approved housing counseling agency. A consumer can feel comfortable in knowing that the counselor that's providing that service is interested in their well-being, and there are no other motives behind that.”
Looking back on 35 years and looking to the years ahead, Fulmore reflected on her feelings about what she does—what she has done all her life—and confesses with a smile, “I love this industry.”