Quarter 3 2020, Volume 8 Issue 3

Mon Valley Initiative: Tips to Effectively Counsel Clients Through COVID-19

Jonathan Weaver of Mon Valley Initiative (MVI) remembers the economic hardship that hit the country during the 2008 Housing Crisis. Now, during the COVID-19 national emergency, Mr. Weaver has been receiving calls daily from people who are facing a situation they could never have imagined – homeowners cannot make their mortgage payments, are unsure about forbearance, and terrified of foreclosure.

Although the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the economy are unknown, housing counselors now have the advantage of great references and resources established in 2008. There are already more supports in place today for borrowers than there were twelve years ago, and government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with the FHA, have put out effective guidance in a short amount of time.

Even with lessons learned from the past, this still can be a challenging time for homeowners who have been financially impacted by COVID-19. Housing counselors, like Mr. Weaver, are being inundated with requests for assistance. He has learned a great deal about counseling clients through a crisis in the past few months, and has the following lessons to share:

toy house figurine on a stack of papers

  • Try to work efficiently yet thoroughly. Get things done as quickly as possible, especially when a client is desperate for help; avoid holding up the process, but don’t rush. Rushing can lead to substandard results. I keep a handwritten note on my desk to remind myself that it is better to get clear and complete information from the client than to rush to turn in incomplete paperwork. Ultimately, taking the time to be thorough and make sure everything is complete. This approach may cause a small delay up front but will save more time on the back end and achieve better results for clients.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. To assist both my teammates at Mon Valley Initiative and my clients, I must take care of myself. Every day I make time to step away from files, have lunch, and even take a walk around the block to clear my head. I find it easy to get wrapped up in clients’ stress as they face the scariest thing imaginable – losing their home. I know that the work will keep coming in, and I need to be at my personal best to provide the best service to my clients.
  • Don’t work in a vacuum. In addition to providing direct housing counseling services, MVI also serves as a HUD housing counseling national intermediary. This role allows them to not only provide technical assistance to their nationwide network of agencies but also provides them with the opportunity to learn best practices on how other agencies are assisting their clients. No one has all the answers, so follow the same advice that you would give your clients: do your homework and seek the help of others when needed. Reach out to industry partners to educate yourself and help your clients.

COVID-19 is not the first crisis housing counselors have helped their clients through, and it may not be the last, but using Jonathan’s tips, counselors can continue to learn from the past and move forward to provide the best counseling possible to their clients.