Help available for people facing foreclosure

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By Emily Morrow

Don’t lose hope. That’s the message of the St. Johns Housing Partnership.

One of the main services of the Housing Partnership is providing community members with free access to programs that may help them save their homes from foreclosure.

Cassy Barbour, program director, said the Housing Partnership has seen the effects of the increase in foreclosures. She’s seeing about 50 new cases a month and is working on about 200 cases. 

But that’s not enough for her. Not when 1,097 people have filed foreclosures this year.

“It just seems like such a small part of the community is aware,” she said. “We really can help.”

Mike Mier can attest to that.

Mier, 62, has lived in his St. Augustine home since 1971. His grandfather built the home on Everett Street in 1918 and it’s stood strong ever since.

Up until 2009, he had never missed a mortgage payment. A former deputy with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, he had spent the last eight and a half years working for a Honda dealership. He was making about $42,000 a year with benefits and had a great credit score.

Then he lost his job.

Mier went to work for another dealership, but had to start as an entry-level car salesman making minimum wage. His salary wasn’t high enough to make his $1,100 monthly payments on his house.

“I was barely able to keep my electricity on,” he said.

In 2011, his house went into foreclosure and he knew he needed help.

Mier went to St. Johns County Legal Aid where he was put in contact with the housing partnership and began the process of attempting to modify his mortgage.

Every month he would turn in his pay stubs and his bank statement to prove his income. Every Monday, the housing partnership would call his mortgage company and ask if there were any updates.

“I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I spent,” he said. “The thought of having to move out of that house — it’s just a horrible, horrible thought.”

Finally, in April, Mier got the letter he’d been waiting for. Your mortgage has been successfully modified, it said, with a smiley face.

Mier’s mortgage went from about $1,100 a month to about $540 a month. His interest rate, previously 5.5 percent, is now 2 percent. Additionally, every April, $44,800 will be negated from his balance for the next three years.

“In three years,” he said, smiling, “I’ll own my house.”

Mier’s case is one of success, but it is not unique, Barbour said. About 75 percent of the people who walk into her office are able to get some kind of relief from foreclosure.

The Housing Partnership, in conjunction with Legal Aid, offers free services like credit counseling, money management training and first-time home buyer education. They help people apply for loan-modification programs and find the best alternative to foreclosure.

Barbour recommends that anyone interested in getting help with home payments call the Housing Partnership and sign up for a foreclosure prevention workshop. These workshops present people with available options and how to qualify for each program. They are held every other Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Prosperity Bank Training Center.

“People just need to know there’s hope out there,” Mier said. “I would have a billboard painted for them if I could.” 

SJHP Housing Programs

■ Home Affordable Modification Program — government loan modification program that can change the terms of your mortgage to lower your monthly payments and bring your loan current.

■ In-House Modification Program — a program specific to each lender, providing modifications for homeowners who may not qualify for government programs.

■ Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative — allows for selling your home for less than what is owed or deeding it back to the lender. This option can release homeowners from shortages or deficiencies with their lenders.

■ Foreclosure Prevention Education Workshop Information:

Where: Prosperity Bank Training Center, 790 N. Ponce de Leon Blvd

When: every other Tuesday at 2 p.m.

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You can make a difference in someone’s life today! Click here to learn how you can get involved with SJHP by giving time, talent or money.

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