As someone who spends his days working with homeowners looking for a way to avoid foreclosure, Alex Roberts knows how difficult it could be to restructure or modify a loan.
“Most of them [people fighting foreclosure] have been trapped in 800-number hell in dealing with the banks,” said Roberts, the executive director of the White Plains-based non-profit Community Housing Innovations.
When Roberts and other CHI officials were exploring ways to keep people in their homes, their first thought was establishing a rescue fund for people having trouble paying back their loans. They soon realized, Roberts said, that it was be nearly impossible to make the kind of money available that would make a difference for most homeowners.
Roberts took a deeper look at the problems for people, and banks, trying to avoid a foreclosure and found there were dysfunctions on both sides.
“One, the homeowners have no one to talk to. They were given anonymous 800 numbers and their paperwork was always being lost, etc.,” he said. “And the bankers were having these massive events in convention centers. Homeowners would come to these events without the proper documentation, would have to be waiting hours and hours on end to get to meet with someone, so it was very inefficient.”
Roberts’ goal then became setting up meetings between homeowners facing foreclosure and bankers with the authority to write loan modifications. Homeowners would be counseled on everything they needed so they wouldn’t show up without the proper paperwork. Bankers would commit an hour of their time to avoid having to foreclose on an account.
The program, called the CHI Fast Track Loan Modification Event, has already helped 75 Westchester residents with loans from Bank of America and Wells Fargo stay in their homes. On October 25, 26 and 27, bank underwriters from JP Morgan Chase will be at the CHI offices in White Plains with the ability to make loan modifications on the spot.
“The Fast Track Loan Modification Program, because it brings together fully prepared homeowners with fully authorized bankers, creates a framework for solving a problem, and doing it expeditiously,” Roberts explained.
CHI will be one of four agencies involved in the event, along with the Housing Action Council, Westchester Residential Opportunities, and Human Development Services of Westchester.
Linda Moss, a White Plains resident, said she found herself battling foreclosure after her business failed and she struggled with health problems. She learned first-hand how hard it was to follow the process and have a loan modified.
“Navigating through the system, there’s not an easy plan in place. They make it very difficult for people to get what they need,” Moss said. “You have to repeat your story 100 times.”
The program later this month will mark the first time JP Morgan Chase has sent underwriters to a non-profit counseling agency, according to CHI.
Founded in 1991, CHI owns and manages approximately 600 apartments in five counties outside New York City. It’s one of the largest providers of housing for the homeless in Westchester, providing housing under the Emergency Housing Apartment Program, and also provides down payment assistance for families and individuals looking to buy a home.
“We’ve made almost 500 families homeowners in the last about 14 years and we’ve had almost no foreclosures because we provide free homebuyer counseling,” Roberts said. “We make sure anyone who gets one of our grants, which are typically about 25,000 dollars, is ready, understands the risks and responsibilities of home ownership.”
For more about the CHI Fast Track Loan Modification Program, visit www.chigrants.org. To schedule a meeting with a Chase underwriter, call 1-800-483-2686.