Foreclosure prevention programs don't help everyone

Connie Norman
Connie Norman is facing foreclosure.
MPR Photo/Toni Randolph

When 51-year-old Connie Norman bought her house in North Minneapolis five years ago, she had a plan. Buy it, fix it up, sell it and walk away with a little nest egg. But her five-year plan has gone terribly awry.

"I'm feeling almost like I'm trapped in the house. I feel like I'm squatting on my own property," she said.

Instead of developing a nest egg, Norman is five months behind on her mortgage and facing foreclosure. She recently received notice that her house would be put up on the auction block in April. And the way Norman sees it, there are few options to help her save her home even though several new assistance programs have recently been unveiled.

"It's all too little, way too late as far as I'm concerned. This all should have happened a year ago. They were already anticipating this. They can't move on any foreclosures for a month. What is a month going to do. A month is going to do nothing," she said.

That month-long reprieve in the foreclosure process is a high-profile initiative unveiled by a group of six major mortgage lenders earlier this month. It's called Project Lifeline and it gives a select group of homeowners a 30-day pause in the foreclosure process. It's not available to everyone in trouble but banks say the program could help up to 700,000 homeowners nationwide.

I feel like I'm squatting on my own property.

But Norman doubts she's one of them. Even if Project Lifeline were available to her, it wouldn't help. She doesn't need more time -- she needs more money -- about $6,000 to catch up on her mortgage.

Even industry officials admit Project Lifeline won't save everyone who needs help.

"This is not a silver bullet," said Ed Delgado with Wells Fargo, one of the banks behind Project Lifeline. He says it's just one of the banking industry's efforts to stem the tide of foreclosures. But he says the industry never intended to eliminate foreclosures from the market.

"Inasmuch as we have the best of intentions as servicers, we have to ensure that the solutions are going to work long-term," he said.

Delgado says the purpose of the program is to generate awareness and encourage borrowers not to wait to let their banks know they're having trouble.

Advocates like Ellen Harnick with the Center for Responsible Lending, say Project Lifeline and any other programs that help borrowers should be considered positive, but limited.

"Independent economists are anticipating two million foreclosures based on the sub-prime mortgage defaults in the next year. When you consider that these initiatives are not likely to help more than a tiny fraction of those home losses, you have to look at them in context and say they're a good start, they should be supported, but they're hardly the solution," she said.

Norman's House
Connie Norman's house is going on the auction block in April.
MPR Photo/Toni Randolph

Connie Norman says she feels trapped. The value of her house has gone down by more than a quarter. She'd have a hard time selling it in the slumping housing market anyway. And even if she could sell it, it wouldn't be enough to pay off her debts. She'd still need to find about $80,000. Now she fears she may end up back where she was 25 years ago -- in bankruptcy.

"It's really frustrating. When I went into this my credit rating was in the 700s. I had excellent credit and I was really proud of that. Now it's gone, totally gone. Even if I don't go into bankruptcy, my credit rating is really damaged," she said.

Even though the numbers seem stacked against her, Norman hasn't lost hope for a way out of her predicament. She's meeting with counselors from Habitat for Humanity Friday. She's hoping they can help her find a solution that doesn't include bankruptcy or foreclosure.

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