Breann Gala contributed to this post.
Last April, Congress cut the entire budget for housing counseling for FY 2011; recent actions on the Hill suggest this funding is once again in jeopardy in 2012. The loss of $88 million dollars is negatively affecting more than 2,000 HUD-certified local housing counseling agencies and associated organizations, which in turn is hurting the people they assist: new and prospective homebuyers as well as those on the verge of losing their homes due to foreclosure. Currently, the House budget has zeroed out HUD housing counseling, while the Senate budget has proposed $60 million for FY2012.
Housing counseling agencies in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana partner with MPC and local employers on Employer-Assisted Housing, through which employers provide workers with downpayment assistance and homeownership counseling provided by these agencies. Employers report bottom-line benefits from improved productivity and reduced turnover when they implement employer-assisted housing programs - and help their employees with stable, affordable homes closer to work. Simply put, without these agencies, EAH programs would suffer – and so would our entire region. During the housing crisis, housing counselors have been on the front lines, providing free services to help homeowners at risk of foreclosure restructure their mortgages and loans. Without funding, they may not be able to continue serving communities. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune expressed the concerns of various housing counseling agencies, such as Neighborhood Housing Services, Rogers Park Development Corporation, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, and DuPage Homeownership Center. They worry that if they are forced to move to a fee-for-service model, fewer potential homebuyers will seek their services, leading to more ill-informed buyers entering into high-risk, precarious loans —a situation recent history tells us will only deepen the foreclosure crisis.
Eliminating housing counseling from Congress’ budget has the potential to slow or even reverse progress made to date to stabilize neighborhoods, prevent foreclosures, and save families from losing their homes. The DuPage Homeownership Center noted that over 80 percent of homeowners who came to the Center for foreclosure prevention assistance never had homebuyer education, which only further confirms the strong connection between housing counseling, foreclosure prevention, and foreclosure mitigation.
What’s more, a recent op-ed in The New York Times underscored just how vital housing counseling agencies have become during this foreclosure crisis. Not only are they helping clients take the steps necessary to avoid foreclosure and regain their financial footing, but because they are meeting clients where they are – in crisis – many housing counselors also helping clients grapple with the personal consequences of being in foreclosure, from stress and depression to health concerns:
These counselors have become, of necessity, crisis counselors — in a national survey of 395 mortgage counselors we conducted in January, 37 percent said they had worked with at least one homeowner in the past month who was considering suicide — but they need to be trained to quickly and efficiently screen for illnesses like depression.
Now is not the time to cut funding for housing counseling agencies; if anything, they need more support than ever to serve even greater numbers. That’s why MPC encourages you to stand with us in support of renewed federal funding for housing counseling agencies, which do critical work to prepare new homebuyers for the financial responsibilities of owning a home and help homeowners at risk of foreclosures find ways to keep their homes. Go to our web site today and send a letter to your senators and representatives, urging them to preserve this funding.