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Struggling Chicago Homeowners Get Hope With New Program

 Neighborhood Housing Services offers free services to homeowners struggling with their mortgages.
Neighborhood Housing Services offers free services to homeowners struggling with their mortgages.
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Neighborhood Housing Services

ROSELAND — Spencer Readus had just about given up hope that he would be able to keep his Roseland home after losing his job and emptying his savings account.

But thanks to the help of counselors from the Neighborhood Housing Services, the 65-year-old Readus is able to stay in his home. The nonprofit helped him get approved for a loan modification so now he’s saving an extra $300 a month on his mortgage payments.

“This will help and make payments more affordable, while leaving room to take care of my other expenses,” he said.

Neighborhood Housing Services launched a campaign last month to make more homeowners aware of their options.

“The purpose of the initiative is to say, ‘Hey, we’re putting everyone on notice, there is still hope available, and help available,” said Wanda Collins, manager of homeownership services at the agency.

The campaign is important, she said, because although the economy has improved, there are still a lot of homeowners in Chicago and the south suburbs struggling to pay their mortgages.

A report released in August found Chicago ranked second in the nation — behind only Las Vegas — in the number of underwater mortgages.

“We know just from the people that we serve that they’re slow to [recover] or haven’t recovered from the recession of 2008-2009,” Collins said.

Her mission is to spread the word and make homeowners aware that there is free help. Many of the relief programs expire Dec. 30.

“I think in many instances, people just don’t know where to turn,” she said.

That was the case for Readus, who said he struggled on his own for months, filling out applications just to get denied multiple times.

“I kept getting denied and no one would say why,” he said. “It was very frustrating and I almost gave up hope.”

In June, he contacted Neighborhood Housing Services. His counselor was an “angel,” Readus said, adding that she was friendly and offered great advice.

“She explained everything to me and encouraged me to not give up," he said.

Collins said she strongly recommends homeowners utilize her group's services instead of attempting to handle loan modifications alone. She said her agency acts as an advocate, and mortgage companies and banks take homeowners more seriously when they see the owners are working with groups like hers.

Studies show that homeowners who work with housing experts are 2.83 times more likely to receive a loan modification and 70 percent less likely to re-default on a modified loan, organization officials said. In addition, counseled clients saved $732 per year on their modification compared to non-counseled borrowers.

“Several programs are available to help homeowners who risk losing their home to foreclosure or are struggling to make their payments,” said Karen Woods, the organization's director of homeownership services. “It’s important that homeowners do not delay seeking assistance. We understand they may not be aware of the tools available, but [the organization] can help connect homeowners to mortgage relief solutions and help navigate the process.”

Collins also urged homeowners to beware of scams because there are organizations that ask for money upfront or make promises that if the fee is paid, they can guarantee a modification.

“I would caution anyone out there, if someone is asking you to make payments to other sources other than your mortgage company, if they ask you to pay an upfront fee, if they say, ‘Hey sign the title of your property over to another company so the foreclosure notice isn’t sent to you,’ watch out,” Collins said.

The organization's mortgage relief counselors offer individualized help with assessing a homeowner’s current financial and mortgage situation. From there, counselors will try to identify the best solution and help with the application process.

Neighborhood Housing Services has a mortgage relief hotline for homeowners at 773-329-4220. To learn more visit www.nhschicago.org.

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