With some 700 housing units in foreclosure or already bank-owned, the city of Oakley last week offered some help to residents caught in the real estate meltdown.
The Facing Foreclosure Seminar, the brainchild of Mayor Bruce Connelley, drew on the expertise of representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC), Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA), Bay Area Legal Aid and Pacific Community Services, Inc. to provide information, counseling and support to home-owners facing foreclosure.
Foreclosure is an epidemic in our area, and it is not going to get easier, said CHDC representative Maria Benjamin. It took a long time to get this way and it will take a long time to get out of it unless the lenders, federal government and investors turn it around.
Oakley is certainly not the only East County community suffering. Of the 556 homes on the market in Brentwood in February, 181 were bank-owned, according to statistics provided by the city and gathered from the Data Quick Information Systems Real Estate Service. In Antioch, out of 1,184 homes on the market, 503 are bank-owned and 69.26 percent are categorized as distressed.
There are no magic bullets to the problem, Noah Zinner of Bay Area Legal Aid said at last week's seminar in Oakley. There are good options and bad options. Among the good options: negotiate with the lender to modify your payments. This time, negotiate through HUD-approved and nonprofit counselors, so they can speak on your behalf and guide you through.
Zinner emphasized that homeowners facing short sale, bankruptcy or foreclosure should get legal advice. Bankruptcy can stop the foreclosure process but does not necessarily free the borrower from his loan obligations, he said.
I want to know what to do when I can't afford to make any more payments, said Richmond resident Singh Lamontree while waiting to speak to a counselor. I bought our home for $465,000 and now it's worth $280,000. I plan to let it go because the value is so cheap.
Liz Cuccia of Teller-Williams Realty has witnessed the crisis up close. It's just hitting so many of our clients, she said. It's overwhelming to not know what to do. It's hard to trust anybody. The financial institutions are not at all prepared for anything like this.
Oakley resident R.M. Lejus confirmed Cuccia's statement. It's crazy, because no one will negotiate, he said. No one will talk to us. It's like they'd rather have the house sit than take what we can offer.
CHDC representative Katrina Vizinau cited the Cash for Keys program, in which lenders assist the evicted homeowners or tenants with monetary support for relocation. Life after foreclosure can happen, she said. It can be the ending with the new beginning. You will have to re-establish your credit, start a savings and emergency fund, and load up on first-time homebuyer and lease purchase programs and information, because you have the right to purchase again this time equipped with better information, confidence and a better financial plan.
For more information, visit the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development Web site at www.hud.gov; call the Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC) at 510-412-9290 or visit www.chdcnr.com; call ACORN Housing at 510-436-6532 or visit www.acorn.org; or call Pacific Community Services at 925-439-1056 or visit www.pcsi.org.