Take Root Program Helps to Educate About Foreclosure Prevention

July 17, 2013

TForeclosure preventionhe housing market is improving in Illinois, but there are still a lot of financially stressed homeowners, and agencies are trying to get the word out that help is available.

Within Illinois, 82,000 homeowners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were delinquent on their payments at the end of March, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the overseer of Fannie and Freddie. That translates to about 6 percent of all Illinois loans supported by the two entities that are delinquent.

In addition, as of March 31, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned 16,903 homes within the state that were repossessed through foreclosure.

With the goal of reducing those numbers and stabilizing communities, Freddie Mac has partnered with the Chicago Urban League to bring its Take Root program to Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Part foreclosure prevention and part homeownership education and promotion, Take Root got its start in Milwaukee in 2010, and the program has since been launched in Denver, South Florida and Jacksonville, Fla., before coming to Chicago.

There are no direct dollars involved or made available to consumers. Rather, it’s an effort to marshal resources of numerous agencies and promote them to consumers under the Take Root umbrella. During its first year of operation in Milwaukee, with the help of 32 participating organizations, the program helped 2,400 families avoid foreclosure and almost 450 families bought a home, including 150 who purchased a foreclosed home.

That was several years ago, and parts of the housing market are now recovering on their own. Chicago still needs the kind of cohesive marketing effort that is key to Take Root, despite the upbeat housing talk in some communities, said Margaret Wooten, senior director of housing at the Chicago Urban League.

“When you first start hearing reports of recovery, they are not referring to low- and moderate-income communities at all,” Wooten said. “There is no movement for us until the upper-class communities get better. Then, and only then, will ours come up, and it will be a slow process for us.”

As part of Take Root Chicago, delinquent borrowers who haven’t responded to calls from their mortgage servicer will begin receiving letters from Freddie Mac and the Urban League that encourage them to get information and proactively take steps to save their homes from foreclosure. The idea is that local residents may have a better comfort level with a community organization than a bank or a government entity, and people will learn there are local resources available to help them.

“These are the ones that the lenders haven’t been able to get through to,” said Christina Diaz-Malone, Freddie Mac’s vice president of community outreach. They are past 90 days delinquent. They are folks who have stopped answering the phone.

“What we’re finding is, there are still a lot of folks who say they don’t know what to do,” she added. “They get confused.”

In addition to helping troubled homeowners, Wooten also hopes the program can assist potential homebuyers. She already has seen a pickup in attendance in homebuyer education classes, and Illinois, which proclaimed 2013 as the Year of Homeownership, has several programs to help creditworthy, eligible low- and moderate-income individuals purchase homes.

The state added another such program last week, announcing that it will use $6.6 million to help people buy about 240 vacant single-family homes in communities outside Cook County. The program is funded by the state’s real estate transfer fees.

Beginning this fall, grant funds sent to 16 public and nonprofit groups will enable eligible buyers to receive up to $5,000 to help with a purchase and up to $20,000 to rehab a vacant home.

Participants can pair the funding with existing loan products offered through the state to boost their purchase limits.

It is these sorts of programs that have community proponents excited about partnerships like the new one with Freddie Mac.

“It’s all about empowering the community,” Wooten said.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on July 8, 2013.

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