May/June 2019, Volume 7 Issue 09
Pulling Together to Preserve Homeownership
The HOPE NOW Alliance
For homeowners, crisis comes in many forms—an economic downturn, the forces of nature, an abundance of uncontrollable personal circumstances. For more than a decade, HOPE NOW has been a port in the storm for homeowners facing the loss of their homes. HOPE NOW is a nonprofit alliance of housing counseling agencies, mortgage companies, investors, and other mortgage market participants committed to working to keep people in their homes.
Eric Selk, Executive Director, explains, “HOPE NOW was created in collaboration with HUD and the U.S. Treasury, the idea being that collaboration between the nonprofit industry and the mortgage industry would be beneficial to borrowers out in the field. We are a very unique nonprofit in that our membership is the mortgage servicing industry.”
Housing counseling agencies play a significant role in the organization’s home preservation initiative, partnering to provide borrowers with debt management, credit counseling, and foreclosure prevention services. “We work with them on the local level as well as the federal level,” adds Selk. “Sometimes we'll work with an intermediary office on activities. It varies by the project that we're doing and the goals we're trying to accomplish.”
Dealing with Disasters
Nothing is more devastating to homeownership than a natural disaster. Housing counseling agencies are well positioned to help homeowners and renters after a disaster. When they occur, HOPE NOW is quick to live up to its name. The impact of a natural disaster is not only the immediate aftermath but also the very long recovery timeline that follows. “Usually in that early disaster recovery period, there are specific programs on the ground,” says Selk. “The main players are the Red Cross, the United Way, and the Small Business Administration. You can take out a loan from the Small Business Administration, and that's what families need sometimes, just a quick infusion of cash. HOPE NOW uses housing as a catalyst to bring the available resources together and get the mortgage servicing community to promote them and connect their homeowners with them. We also work to get the nonprofits to play a role.”
The organization quickly galvanizes industry players. Educational flyers go out to the community. Available resources are convened into face-to-face assistance events where homeowners discuss their issues and learn their options and opportunities. “We really try to be sensitive to the market and what the resources are, bring them together, put out a broad message into the community that people can get help, and then do the best work we can for that time on the ground. We were in North Carolina two days for face-to-face assistance,” Selk recounts. “After Hurricane Harvey, we brought together a two-week event that served over 500 families. We were in Puerto Rico for six weeks in coordination with FEMA and their disaster assistance centers.”
In addition to connecting renters and homeowners with organizations that provide disaster recovery support services, housing counseling agencies play a critical role in helping clients manage their post-disaster financial situation and navigate the complexities of disaster recovery assistance programs.
Awareness and Synergy
One challenge is that consumers are not aware of the help that is available to them. Housing counselors fill that knowledge gap by helping clients access resources that will help them obtain rental, mortgage and tax relief; find temporary housing; and apply for government recovery programs.
“The majority of people have no idea of all the free resources that are out there,” Selk added. “The last disaster-relief event we did was in Beaumont, Texas. The majority of people we served were low-to-moderate income. Out of the 192 families we met that day, it's safe to say that 50 percent of them had no idea that Habitat for Humanity was a resource in their own community. There were other free builders who were being funded through various disaster charitable dollars. Those families had expended their insurance, and they needed to know what to do. They were beyond thrilled.”
Serving homeowners in disaster areas, he explains, is vitally dependent on pulling together all available resources. For example, Habit for Humanity and Catholic Charities can provide rebuilding and temporary housing, and there could be specialty builders with a relationship to the city or state. “They vary market to market. We had a call with the Mennonites. It was amazing, and the mortgage services were blown away. They had no idea that resource even existed.”
Another example of that, he suggests, is getting FEMA on site. “We had a FEMA assistance table in Texas. People were coming through the door saying they had been turned down for FEMA assistance. We said, ‘Did you know you could reapply?’ Most did not. They were able to go over to the FEMA table and do just that. People get very emotional in disaster situations. They really just need guidance and education to help them understand what is available to them.”
“The thing is,” says Selk, “disaster coalesces a group of people. The disaster is the activating agent to get everybody together, to get everybody in the same room. If not for a disaster, they may or may not be socializing those programs with each other.”
Getting as Much as You Give
Like anyone who works with people in crisis, Selk finds that being in the field brings eye-opening perspective. “We had three different free options for the families in Beaumont. Those tables were busy all day. I told myself, ‘Eric, you take so much for granted.’ Because as director, I'm in the middle of it—I'm collecting these lists, I'm doing market research, I'm always trying to be the problem solver. When I go on the ground and I'm able to help people connect locally with something that's in their own community, that's very gratifying for me. That's community building.”