McKenna highlights help for struggling homeowners

AG, gubernatorial candidate visits Vancouver nonprofit

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter


photoRob McKenna

Related story

Gubernatorial candidate McKenna talks education during Vancouver visit

Community Housing Resource Center

What: A nonprofit organization focused on education, mortgage default counseling and credit counseling services with the goal of increasing community housing stability.

Where: 103 E. 29th St., Vancouver.

Executive Director: Kevin Gillette.

Annual operating budget: $430,000.

Employees: Six full-time.

Contact: 360-690-4496; Community Housing Resource Center.

Like thousands of Clark County homeowners who received a notice of mortgage default in 2009, Jim Fleming got into trouble after his income as a real estate broker dropped dramatically.

His story ended on a happy note, Fleming said during a Monday visit by State Attorney General Rob Mc-Kenna to the Community Housing Resource Center, a Vancouver nonprofit that provides mortgage default counseling. Fleming had almost given up trying to find help when he turned to the center for assistance. The center set up a meeting between Fleming and his lender, which led to a modification of his loan, allowing him to remain in his home. McKenna said he hoped more troubled homeowners would call the center.

“The counselors help homeowners navigate the confusing and, frankly, frightening experience of fighting off a foreclosure,” said McKenna, who is running as a Republican to replace outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire.

McKenna’s office set up Monday’s visit to remind borrowers they might be eligible for additional help, thanks to a $25 billion settlement negotiated by attorneys general from nearly every state.

“If you think you’re at risk of losing your home, call,” McKenna said.

That goes for homeowners who are underwater — meaning they owe more on the house than it’s worth — if their mortgage is with the nation’s top five loan services: Bank of America Corp., JP Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo, Citigroup Inc., and Ally Financial Inc., formerly GMAC.

The settlement also will issue benefits to foreclosure victims and help homeowners modify their mortgages if they are underwater.

“If you think you might qualify for a loan modification, you should call your lender to find out more,” McKenna said. He added that lenders are already starting to comply.

‘I had no solution’

Like Fleming, Jacqueline Freeman told McKenna that she and her husband, Joseph Freeman, were in danger of losing their family’s Battle Ground farm until they got in touch with the center.

“If we hadn’t worked with them, I don’t think it would have gone as well,” Jacqueline Freeman said.

“You’re so upset, you can’t think clearly,” said Fleming, a father of four who has lived in his ranch-style home for 21 years.

“Without the housing resource center, I had no solution,” he said.

Kevin Gillette, the housing resource center’s executive director, said he sees no end in sight to Clark County’s high foreclosure rates — the highest out of the state’s 39 counties in March and the seventh-highest in February.

Gillette said the county is especially vulnerable if home values continue to decline and the job market doesn’t recover, although the county’s foreclosure rate has been steadily declining year-over-year.

In March, there were 214 houses in some stage of foreclosure, up 59 percent from February’s 134 foreclosures, but 21 percent lower than the same month last year.

Gillette expects the national financial settlement with lenders to push local foreclosure rates higher before the numbers drop for good.

“We anticipate a rush of foreclosure notices coming up over the next couple of months,” Gillette said.

The nonprofit housing resource center provided mortgage default counseling to more than 300 clients last year.

McKenna also advised troubled homeowners to beware of scam artists who prey upon foreclosure victims with phony Internet advertising and direct phone calls that offer legal help with the process.

He said state authorities have shut a number of those operations down.

“If someone is advertising to modify the loan and they want the money upfront, it’s a scam,” he said.

Gillette said mortgage default classes and counseling are free at the home center, although the center does charge $25 to run a credit report for clients.