Sunday, February 8, 2009

Foreclosure Part 2 - Finding the Federal Mortgage Money

I must admit that my reluctance to write down my experiences surprises me. There was a time in my life when I couldn't stop talking about myself. In fact I couldn't stop talking about myself to the exclusion of everyone around me. At 56 things seem, at times, as if they've swung around 360 degrees. It's true what they say about aging-events from childhood grow clearer by the day while events from last week I can hardly grasp.

So here's how things have gone. The day the foreclosure papers arrived in the mail I went (as they used to say) wang dang doodle nuts! I dropped to my knees because I couldn't support my own weight and on the other hand I'm not a fainter. I had a vision of my furniture being hauled out on to the front lawn. I've lived in neighborhoods where people actually watched for eviction notices to be posted on doors so they could raid some strangers belongings. I've watched people frantically trying to hang onto their belongs while people darted in and out stealing away bits and pieces of their life. The woman would cry while the man yelled and threatened and their children watched like those wide eyes paintings. Did I mention these things never seem to happen on bright sunny days? So anyway, the process server handed me a thick envelope that basically boiled down to "GET OUT" said in legal language. One of the few things that has helped me get through the last three years of my woman-made financial nightmare is facing almost everything as if I'm doing is for someone else. In this case I was working to help someone save their home. But the gravity of what was happening, the possibility of having no where to live made it impossible to pretend it wasn't actually happening to me.

From 1995 to 2006 I was privileged to be appointed by then Governor George E. Pataki (see my homepage tab about Susan Kemp) and my primary responsible was research. A wonderful man, a Rabbi of all people, introduced me to this thing called the Internet. The only search engine was AltaVista. Everything was pure text and almost no one had an email address. It was early days but I knew this thing called the Internet could really be something. It didn't take long for the word to get out that if you needed something come to me and I'll find it on the Internet. Ten years of teaching myself how to find anything out there left me feeling truly frustrated when someone could put out information but didn't. I'd been hearing alot about how some portion of the Federal bailout money had been set aside to help people like me who'd fallen behind on their mortgages. In my case I'd had to make some hard choices. It take up to six months for review of your application for disability. While the review is ongoing you cannot make any money. Some friends have speculated that the idea is to force you into bankruptcy while you wait for a decision. I still had bills to pay while I was waiting. Electricity to keep on, fuel oil to keep me warm and medical bills, lots and lots of medical bills and co-pays to cover. Let's not even talk about the cost of medications. So I used what would have been mortgage money and I'm willing to bet I'm far from alone. It's called robbing Peter to pay Paul and if Paul's up in heaven waiting for his cash he's going to be a very rich man when I die.

Well there was no doubt about it - being three months behind on your mortgage pretty much guaranteed foreclosure. I once referred to my house as "home crap home." 20 years later I would have fought like a pit bull to keep it. I put the word out on several listservs that I wanted to know "where the cash is." Any number of non-profits were openly available to help people figure out how to create a budget or save to buy a house but where was the actual cash and why wasn't anyone talking about it openly? I've got this real problem with secrecy. The more you try to hide something from me the harder I'll search for it. Childhood issues and all that. Well a wonderful woman on one of my listservs got in touch with me and gave me the website for something called PHASES (Preserving Homeownership and Savings Education Strategy (PHASES) program.) This is not easy money but I will tell you its fair money. I've worked in the grants field for 25+ years and what has often pushed me to the edge is when you hear about an "available" grant when the truth is they already know who they're going to give the money to. PHASES is fair. They look at everything from your debt to income ratio, the reason(s) you fell behind on your mortgage payments, the application you have to complete as well as the online finance course. This is not easy money to obtain but it is obtainable.

I received a foreclosure notice a week before I was approved by PHASES. They understood the urgency of my situation. Sometimes I felt like a jockey riding a house instead of a horse to the finish line. But they did get me to the finish line. I had to make a commitment to pay the mortgage on time from that point on and check in on a quarterly basis with my budget to show I'm keeping on the straight and narrow. I was approved for social security disability just before Christmas and got my pension check started to. My husband found a job that meets our need for him to be available during the day to take care of me. I've been reading alot about the good people who don't get the happy ending. Believe me I know how lucky I am. I'm trying to make myself as available as possible to help people facing possible foreclosure.

Having just emerged from the foreclosure process I know how truly desperate you can get to find a way to keep your home. It seems like there are signs everywhere - in the ground and on telephone poles - telling you that, if you call the phone number they could help you keep your home. In New York State such "help" requires entering into a contract including details of services and fees. This may be true of other States also. Look carefully into each individual business's offer of assistance. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau and/or the local Chamber of Commerce or your State's Attorney General's website or office. Protect yourself. Your already going through one of the toughest times of your life. Don't let someone compound that for their own personal gain.

How To Be Poor In America -