Bar News - February 19, 2014
Governor: Foreclosure Project Exemplifies Public-Private Partnership
By: Kristen Senz
While foreclosures in New Hampshire have declined from a peak of 4,000 a few years ago to about 2,700 in 2013, there are still a lot of Granite State residents fighting to keep their homes.
Joined by NH Gov. Maggie Hassan and Dean Christon, executive director of the NH Housing Finance Authority, homeowner Judite Corriea of Nashua talks about the homeownership counselor who helped her avoid foreclosure.
At an event last month designed to celebrate the first-year accomplishments of the collaborative Foreclosure Relief Project and HomeHelpNH, Gov. Maggie Hassan trumpeted these innovative initiatives as prime examples of government working with nonprofits and private enterprise to solve the problems facing New Hampshire residents. Working together, she said, these groups have been able to help homeowners “find the best solutions possible, and sometimes that means keeping your home when you thought you wouldn’t be able to.”
“This is how we like to do things in New Hampshire,” Hassan said.
The New Hampshire Foreclosure Relief Project and HomeHelpNH are collaborative efforts of the NH Justice Department, NH Housing Finance Authority, NH Bar Association, Legal Advice and Referral Center, and NH Legal Assistance, as well as eight nonprofit homeownership counseling agencies.
A three-year, statewide program funded with $3.5 million from the National Mortgage Servicing Settlement, HomeHelpNH is part of a larger effort, which includes funding for legal services through the New Hampshire Foreclosure Relief Project. These initiatives provide affordable homeownership counseling, legal advice and legal representation to homeowners at all income levels who are struggling with foreclosure or foreclosure-related legal and financial problems.
Not only do these programs help individual homeowners, Hassan said, but they also help strengthen the middle class, improve the real estate market, and bolster the state’s economy.
Since HomeHelpNH and the FRP gained the approval of the governor and NH Executive Council last year, the collaborative has provided 5,600 hours of guidance and assisted 800 New Hampshire households, including that of Judite Correia of Nashua. Correia spent nearly five years on her own fighting foreclosure – fearing she would eventually lose the home she lovingly referred to as “my nest” – before finding help from a certified homeownership counselor.
“You feel like you’re going to lose part of you,” Correia said at the State House. A business owner in Nashua, Correia closed her bakery on Jan. 21 to participate in the event celebrating the FRP in the governor’s office, to help raise awareness about the program. “I believe no one should have to go through what I went through,” she said. “I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, I’m very grateful to this program.”
Prior to finding a homeownership counselor she trusted, Correia had been told her only option was to file bankruptcy. “I don’t want bankruptcy,” she recalled thinking. “I want my home.”
With the help of homeownership counselor Debbie Wheeler of NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, Correia was finally able to secure a loan modification last year. She called HomeHelpNH “the magic key” to unlocking the complexities and contradictions often associated with foreclosure proceedings.
The New Hampshire Foreclosure Relief Project offers assistance through a variety of channels, including a dedicated hotline set up by the Legal Advice and Referal Center and legal clinics hosted by the NH Bar Association. Held in communities across the state, the clinics provide a comfortable setting in which homeowners can meet one-on-one with a lawyer at no cost.
Stephanie Bray leads the project efforts at NH Legal Assistance, representing homeowners in court in what are often emergency situations. She hears from lawyers on the other side that the project has earned a reputation for credibility and legitimacy. “They said, ‘When we see papers with this project involved, we know there’s something there,’” she said.
Anyone who is at risk of foreclosure is encouraged to call 2-1-1 or visit HomeHelpNH.org for free homeownership counseling. For more information on the Foreclosure Relief Project, including how attorneys can get involved and the benefits of becoming involved, visit www.nhfrp.net.