Mid-Shore Pro Bono Helps Local Families Avoid Foreclosure

Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s Foreclosure Prevention Project is helping local families facing foreclosure find their way through the maze of legalities and mountain of paperwork, in many cases enabling them to keep their homes.

One Bozman waterman who received Pro Bono’s assistance wants others to know that there are people who can help.

Charles Roe and his wife, Suzanne, bought their home in 2002. With the economy sagging, by 2008, his income from crabbing and odd jobs, along with Suzanne’s income from work at a local hotel, was not enough to keep up with the $1140 monthly mortgage payments.

The Roes and their four children were faced with the prospect of losing their home. “We were in a hole and couldn’t get out,” said Charles Roe. In trying to negotiate on their own with the mortgage company, they found that every time they would send requested information, they would get another letter requesting something else.

“We were stressed out, about to lose the place, and renting was going to be more than our mortgage,” Roe added. They turned to Elaine Hill, Foreclosure Prevention Project Coordinator at Mid-Shore Pro Bono (MSPB), where free assistance is offered by staff and attorney volunteers for those who qualify.

Hill does intake and triage for MSPB, taking a first look at the cases as they come in, getting the appropriate attorneys assigned and following up as needed. With the help of the Foreclosure Project, the Roes were able to work with the mortgage company, talk to the company’s representatives and negotiate a loan modification.

“These people are good,” said Roe. “They took the stress away. It was good to find someone who could reach out and help. Elaine guided us all the way through it.”

The new loan terms brought the Roes’ payments down to just over $700 a month, reducing their interest rate from more than six percent to about two percent. Determined to stay ahead of the payments, they are now setting money aside in the bank each month to get them through the winter when Roe’s crabbing income disappears.

While Mid-Shore Pro Bono keeps its clients’ cases confidential, the Roes wanted their story told to encourage others in similar situations to come forward and get help before it is too late. They understand that people may be afraid or ashamed to ask for that help.

A Dorchester County construction worker and his wife, who requested that their names be withheld, were among those who waited until the last minute to seek assistance. They came to Mid-Shore Pro Bono literally the day before the foreclosure sale.

The couple had owned their house for eight years when the husband’s work evaporated due to the collapse of the local construction economy. They began missing payments. “We had always paid $100 or more each month [over andabove the mortgage payment],” the husband explained. “It didn’t mean a thing.”

They spoke with the mortgage company, requesting that the missed payments be added to the end of their mortgage’s term. A certificate of deposit was due to mature last October and the couple assured the company that they would send the funds to keep the mortgage below the foreclosure threshold as soon as the CD was redeemed. They sent the money as promised, but the mortgage company refused the payment and filed a foreclosure notice anyway.

The couple called the Maryland HOPE Hotline to seek alternatives in order to keep their home. Even with housing counseling, however, they were unable to get their mortgage company to come to terms. Referred by the housing counselors, they reached out to Mid-Shore Pro Bono in January, the day before the house was due to be sold. The staff and volunteer attorneys were able to get the sale stopped.

“We have been on pins and needles the last year and a half,” said the construction worker. “We would not have gotten as far without Mid-Shore Pro Bono.” MSPB’s staff and volunteer attorneys were able to provide assistance and resources that enabled the couple to navigate the loan modification process more effectively.

With a verbal agreement on a loan modification, the couple is still apprehensive, but more confident that they will make it through this crisis. “We’ve never been in a situation like this before,” the husband said. “We don’t have a second home, no second mortgage, have never refinanced, no home equity loan. If they had just taken my payment in October, it would have prevented all this.”

While these are two stories with successful outcomes, Hill is quick to emphasize that there are many homeowners who are unable to benefit from loan modifications. “The hardest thing is to do triage,” she said. “Often, I just have to say ‘We can’t help you.’”

“We had one client whose home had been sold and she didn’t even know it,” said Hill. Limited in knowledge, the woman had signed papers without understanding what they were. All the MSPB attorneys were able to do for her was to get “cash for keys,” where the lender agrees to give the homeowner a stipend of up to a few thousand dollars in exchange for leaving the house clean and showable.

Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s Foreclosure Prevention Project has handled 71 cases since early 2009, with about a third of those successful in achieving loan modifications. Another 18 percent have received stays of foreclosure or had their foreclosures dismissed.

Its attorneys all emphasize that communication, information and counseling by an approved Housing Counseling Agency, such as Delmarva Community Services in Cambridge, are critical to foreclosure prevention. “Even though a lot of people can handle it on their own, many don’t understand that the clock is always ticking,” added Hill.

While the homeowner may be negotiating with one representative at the mortgage company, another may be following a set timetable for filing foreclosure documents and proceeding regardless of any talks.

Attorneys working with Mid-Shore Pro Bono expect a new state law, in effect as of July 1, to help promote better communication between the parties to a foreclosure. The statute requires that, before a foreclosure can be completed, there must be a mediation where a representative of the lender speaks with a representative of the borrower. Often, establishing that communication can be the hardest part of finding a path through the crisis.

Hill encourages practicing foreclosure prevention from the very beginning. “Always have loan documents reviewed by a lawyer,” she urged. She explained that many people got into trouble by signing papers they did not understand. “They need to know the repercussions seven or ten years down the road if they don’t understand the terms of their loan.”

Loss of income, medical bills and other crises all can be compounded by the problems created when mortgage payments are missed. For many, Mid-Shore Pro Bono can provide hope where it seems there is none. “It’s given us a second chance,” said Charles Roe.

For more information, call Mid-Shore Pro Bono at 410-690-8128 or visitwww.midshoreprobono.org.