The Times, Trenton

Task Force Tackles Forclosure Crisis

The Times of Trenton — Friday, May 23, 2008

BY MEIR RINDE

TRENTON — As the national foreclosure crisis continues to force residents from their homes, the city and housing organizations are renewing the call for homeowners in crisis to reach out for help.

The first step in the new effort will be a training meeting on May 31 for church leaders, nonprofits and other groups being held by a city-organized task force, Mayor Douglas H. Palmer said at a City Hall press conference yesterday.

Some 62 pastors around the city will give "Mortgage Sunday" messages to their congregations during June, which has been dubbed Homeownership Month, Palmer said.

Volunteers will also fan out across particularly hard-hit neighborhoods in South and East Tren ton, handing out flyers and asking threatened homeowners to contact housing counselors.

"This effort is not just going to be in City Hall," Palmer said. "We're taking it to the streets."

Palmer and members of the city's mortgage foreclosure mitiga tion task force said some homeowners are so ashamed by their financial problems that they won't even open mail from the bank or tell friends they need help. The outreach effort aims to overcome those fears, they said.

"There is no shame in trying to save your home," Palmer said.

Patricia Stewart, president of the Trenton Council of Civic Associations and a task force member, recalled that money was tight for her after her husband died. She immediately contacted her bank, which waived late fees and made other arrangements to avoid hav ing to take her home.

"Banks don't want to go into the real estate business," she said. "As long as you contact them, they're happy to work with you."

The task force is also asking residents to attend two public workshops at City Hall on the evenings of June 10 and June 24, or to call the national foreclosure hotline at 888-995-HOPE, which will put them in touch with local counselors.

Housing organizations have prepared by hiring additional counselors with money provided by the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, said Marge Della Vecchia, the agency's executive di rector.

"We expect and we hope to be overwhelmed," said Peter Rose, vice president at Isles Inc., a nonprofit on Greenwood Avenue.

The city held a workshop for residents facing foreclosure in March, and Palmer said the new initiative benefited from the lessons of that previous effort.

"We realized we needed to reach more people," he said.

As a result, the task force includes the Concerned Pastors of Trenton and Vicinity, the Trenton Council of Civic Associations, New Jersey Citizen Action and people like Glenda Serrano of GMAC Mortgage, who is helping conduct outreach to Spanish-speaking residents, Palmer said.

Another lesson is that homeowners need to call for help immediately, before they are so far behind on their payments that their mortgages cannot be salvaged.

"Do it now," Palmer said. "If you have an adjustable rate mort gage that's going to reset next year, do it now."

For those whose homes cannot be saved, the goal is to help them get out of their mortgage with their finances relatively intact, task members said.

The training session will take place May 31 at 11 a.m. at 637 S. Clinton Ave. For more information, visit the mayor's page at trenton nj.org.

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