Pittsburgh, PA, September 8, 2008 – (RealEstateRama) — More than 100 civic leaders across Greater Pittsburgh committed today to play a new role in their community – as Relief Pitchers in the battle against home foreclosures.
With foreclosure now a national epidemic and with the foreclosure rate inching upward in western Pennsylvania, a diverse group of leaders composed of clergy, employers, union chiefs, nonprofit heads, elected representatives and others symbolically donned Relief Pitchers caps at the conclusion of a series of emotionally-charged presentations at Regional Enterprise Tower. Those presentations focused on why families may be at risk of foreclosure, how families may be reacting to their situation and what can be done by community leaders to de-stigmatize the process of seeking help in a timely fashion.
Today’s Relief Pitchers Summit, convened by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh (FHLBank) and supported by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, represents a response to the chronic inability of many loan servicers, housing counseling agencies and other third party organizations to successfully engage at-risk homeowners in a dialogue aimed at helping them save their homes.
“In baseball, a relief pitcher is called in when things aren’t going so well for the team,” said Brian A. Hudson, executive director of PHFA. “The outcome of the game hangs in the balance.
“Studies show that the biggest issue standing between families forfeiting their homes and saving them is fear,” Hudson told the leaders. “As a trusted leader in your community, congregation or workplace, you’re in a unique position to bring this issue out in the open. By providing a few timely messages, you can make the difference between families keeping or losing their homes.”
According to County Executive Onorato, “Seven out of ten mortgage holders who are seriously delinquent have absolutely no contact with their loan servicer, a failure to communicate that not only increases the threat of foreclosure but also raises the odds of vacant properties, neighborhood blight and the loss of precious tax revenues.” The county executive emphasized that at-risk homeowners need to know quickly what counseling services are available and why it’s in their best interest to speak with someone.
A third speaker at today’s event, Saleem Ghubril, founder of the nonprofit group, The Pittsburgh Project, and the new executive director of The Pittsburgh Promise organization established by Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, painted a very human picture of the economic headwinds that many at-risk families face.
“When you’re scrambling to afford the gas you need to get to your minimum wage job, when you’re racing to put dinner on the table as a single mother of two, when you’re bombarded by messages on your answering machine, you just might be distracted from getting help with your mortgage,” explained Ghubril, pastor of Mosaic Community Church on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
“For those who decide to seek help,” Ghubril continued, “there are other daunting issues such as, ‘Where do I go? How do I get there? Will I have to pay a fee for counseling? Will I have to tell someone how I got into this mess?’ Homeowners may not understand that the reasons they are facing foreclosure are completely legitimate,” he added.
The region’s newly minted Relief Pitchers must sympathize, inform and educate, according to Ghubril, by using their individual platform in the community – a sermon, employee meeting, union gathering or club meeting, for example – to make those already behind in mortgage payments feel comfortable enough to seek help. These individuals should be directed to a convenient housing counseling agency that will assess their particular situation confidentially and at no cost before arriving at a plan of action for the client.
Lenders will be brought into the counseling process only as appropriate. In addition, PHFA stands ready with several proven programs that may be of assistance, including attractive fixed-rate mortgages for homeowners who may not qualify for typical refinance programs (REAL); a newer, alternative program in which PHFA purchases the mortgage from the lender and establishes an affordable repayment plan for the borrower (HERO); and a temporary loan program for those facing loss of income, poor health or other unforeseen circumstances (HEMAP).
To assist Relief Pitchers in their newfound mission, civic leaders were armed today with some suggested messages they can employ with at-risk homeowners as well as contact information that they or homeowners themselves can use to tap a variety of resources.
“Comprehensive solutions to widespread problems like foreclosure don’t happen overnight,” County Executive Onorato summarized, “but individualized solutions can occur rather quickly – one by one – if we empower those who are most in need of taking the first step.
“Please wear this cap as a very real symbol of your commitment, and wear it proudly as you move about the community,” Onorato concluded. “And thanks for being a friend to a family in need.”