State offers mortgage clinics

Homeowners faced with potential foreclosures headed to Waterbury Wednesday hoping to retain their homes, but solutions may be hard to find.

The Connecticut Department of Banking organized its fourth free mortgage assistance event yesterday at the Waterbury conference center. The event brought together representatives from major banks — including Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — housing counselors and homeowners from across the state to discuss solutions to prevent foreclosure.

“We’ve created a forum where people can sit down with a single point of contact,” said Howard Pitkin, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Banking. “We hope that the highest number of people possible can reach an agreement with their banks and keep their homes [through this event].”

Options available to homeowners include interest rate reduction, modification of general terms and principal reduction. It is important that people sit down with their mortgage holders, “one-on-one, face-to-face,” and try to work out the solutions, Pitkin said.

While Pitkin said Bridgeport has been hit hardest by foreclosure, New Haven has also witnessed high foreclosure filings since 2008.

Though foreclosure rates are holding steady or dropping nationwide, Karah Johnson, project coordinator at New Haven ROOF, a nonprofit organization committed to foreclosure prevention, said that foreclosures have actually increased in New Haven from the first to third quarter this year.

The root of the problem, Pitkin and Johnson agreed, lies in the high Connecticut unemployment rate, which has hovered at 9 percent, over a point more than the national average of 7.9 percent. As a result of such high unemployment, Pitkin said, people at the mortgage assistance event may feel obliged to give up their homes.

“People reach the decision that they have to find alternative housing. And that is not an easy decision,” Pitkin said.

For homeowners to avoid losing their homes, housing experts like Johnson suggest that anyone who might be at risk of foreclosure should meet with housing counselors, many of whom provide advice and help to underwater homeowners for free.

Foreclosure prevention may be a very confusing process, and homeowners need the help of counselors to see the big picture, Johnson said.

“These [events] are great resources,” she said, “but only if individuals go in with all the information that’s needed from them.”

In fact, according to Johnson, 85 percent of homeowners who went to a housing counselor have come to some sort of resolution and were able to keep their homes.

Pitkin agrees that the more prepared homeowners are, the more likely they will see a good outcome at the event. Some homeowners start the mortgage renegotiation process at events like the one held Wednesday, he said, and follow up with later meetings with their banks.

But Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund Executive Director Carla Weil said she believes that the event, while effective at raising awareness among homeowners as to where they may seek assistance, may be less helpful in reaching solutions.

“There’s not a lot of resolution that happens at the event,” Weil said. “But these events have been getting more effective and better-organized.”

Even if homeowners missed Wednesday’s mortgage assistance event, Pitkin said, the Connecticut Department of Banking has regular office hours committed to helping homeowners with foreclosure prevention and financial issues in general.

According to California-based realty company RealtyTrac, one in every 700 housing units received a foreclosure notice in October 2012.

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