Libraries Provide a Lifeline for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

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By Steve Zalusky

Since the onset of the Great Recession and the subsequent slow economic recovery, libraries have stepped up to help their communities by providing valuable information about resources to cope with financial challenges.

The Newark Public Library partnered last year with the Newark/Essex Foreclosure Taskforce to present a series of free foreclosure workshops at the library.

The workshops were significant in that they provided information both to homeowners and tenants.

Participants learned where they could obtain free legal resources, as well as what tenants can do - and what their rights are - when a landlord is in foreclosure.

The Newark/Essex Foreclosure Taskforce was created in 2007 in response to the rise in foreclosures in Newark and surrounding communities in Essex County related to the sub-prime mortgage market crisis. The Taskforce is comprised of representatives of more than 40 community development corporations, nonprofit housing counseling and legal service providers, government and community development officials and advocacy organizations.

And in California, the San Diego County Public Library system has been nothing short of visionary in serving a population where foreclosures are a grim reality.

The library has partnered with the Housing Opportunities Collaborative (HOC) to provide Foreclosure Prevention HOME Clinics, reaching 2,912 attendees and offering an assumed market value of $2.4 million in free consulting services.

The housing collaborative is a HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) group that includes lawyers, credit counselors and banks, said Susan Moore, deputy library director.

The library's efforts earned them the Highsmith Library Innovation Award from the Public Library Association (PLA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), which honors a public library’s innovative or creative service program.

Library Director Jose Aponte said, “When the economy is bad, when people lose work and money is short, the library’s value is incalculable.”

In San Diego in 2008, one year before the library began offering the clinics, more than 34,000 homeowners faced foreclosure, an increase of 133 percent from 2007. That year, 57 percent of homeowners in default lost their homes, and nearly 20,000 homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure.

The HOME clinics offer:

  • One-stop counseling and action service.
  • One-on-one advice to homeowners from a HUD-approved housing counselor.
  • A mortgage counselor who reviews real estate documents.
  • Legal counsel from volunteer attorneys who specialize in real estate, family law, business and immigration.

"They provide up to two hours of legal and financial counseling at the clinic," she said.

The program has had a major impact on the area. The monthly clinics have been a magnet for hundreds of people who arrive at the library frustrated and leave with hope, relief and a plan.

“These partnerships bring new people into our libraries everyday, and build strong ties to the community,” Aponte said.

One important factor is that the library is a trusted location.

"One of the situations the housing collaborative was trying to mitigate was people coming in unbeknownst to them and scamming people," Moore said. "By coming to the library, because of how libraries are set up, they were able to control the location."

“In times of trials and tribulations, our communities need a safe and reliable place to go in order to find trustworthy resources. The County Library provides this safe and reliable place,” said Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor, executive director of the Housing Opportunities Collaborative.

Here is a video about the program.

The County of San Diego also recommends the following books:

Fight Foreclosure:
How to cope with a mortgage you can't pay, negotiate
with your bank, and save your home
By David M. Petrovich

The Foreclosure Survival Guide:
Keep your house or walk away with money in your pocket
By Stephen Elias

Stop Foreclosure Now:
The complete guide to saving your home and your credit
By Lloyd Segal

Foreclosure Self-Defense For Dummies
By Ralph R. Roberts, et al.







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