The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 18, 2010

Town advises those facing foreclosure

Driving through Carlisle, a visitor might see nothing but prosperity. Well-maintained homes, a renovated library, an expanded Ferns, and long lines at Kimballs/Bates seem to attest to a continuation of the good times. But behind that façade, a growing number of homeowners are asking themselves whether they can continue to live here. Some are even facing the possibility of foreclosure. At Town Hall, Housing Coordinator Elizabeth Barnett has a message for homeowners in difficulty: we may be able to help.

Barnett is currently working with a number of families and seniors having difficulty making mortgage payments. She notes they are not people who speculated or were careless in their financial management. “These are intelligent, thoughtful, contributing members of society,” she says. “This is an equal-opportunity recession.” The Boston Globe (“Foreclosure crisis hits affluent towns” February 28) reports that 11 Carlisle homes had foreclosure petitions filed in 2009, up from three in 2008. Six more have been filed since the beginning of 2010 ( Filings are the first step in the foreclosure process, and indicate payments have been missed for at least three months.

Barnett says that many now in trouble had prime loans, home equity, and savings, but endured an unexpected setback in circumstances. According to the Office of Labor and Workforce Development, unemployment in Carlisle now rests at 6.3%. While this puts the town on the lucky side of the state average 9.2%, it still represents 160 people out of work. Others have experienced wage cuts, a drop-off in business or the need to help out adult children or other relatives in difficulty. Medical expenses, rising energy prices, and college tuitions, which are 4.5 times what they were 20 years ago, are other reasons for families to fall into difficulty. Many have used up savings and home equity as a prolonged recession has sapped the ability to continue paying a mortgage. High loan-to-value ratios combined with low housing prices mean that even if a home can be sold, the proceeds are often not enough to pay off the outstanding loan.

Barnett reports that banks seem surprisingly reluctant to modify a mortgage, even in the face of foreclosure. “It’s like spaghetti,” to unravel the bureaucracy, she says. USA Today reported in August 2009 that a $75-million-dollar federal plan for encouraging lenders to modify mortgages had reached only 9% of eligible homeowners in six months. Scam artists have stepped into the breech, and Barnett cautions against answering ads on the internet, no matter how official they may look.

So where do you go? Barnett suggests her office at Town Hall, where she works with the Council on Aging (COA) to pull resources together. HUD and community organizations, such as Coalition for a Better Acre in Lowell, work with mortgage lenders, and “have a lot more clout,” says Barnett. “They know who to contact and can cut through the red tape.” These organizations provide advice and assistance at no cost. Other resources include the Community Chest, Carlisle Neighbor Fund and other charities. Town resources, including a social worker, are also available to work with families.

Most of all, don’t think you are alone. Currently there are 64,000 properties in some stage of foreclosure in Massachusetts, and Barnett notes that at a recent COA event, she gave out 80 copies of a tip sheet on what to do if you can not make your mortgage payment, “if not for themselves, many knew a relative or employee who could use the information,” she says.

“Stop blaming yourself, “she says, and advises, “Take foreclosure notices seriously, and don’t wait. The sooner people come in, the more we can help them.”

Good Neighbor Fund

The Good Neighbor Fund was established in 2006 when two couples donated $30,000 to provide assistance to any Carlisle resident in need, and is distributed evenly among the three churches in town. At the the First Religious Society (FRS), additional money has been raised and added to the fund.

Rev. Diane Miller, pastor of the FRS, administers the Carlisle Neighbor Fund for her church. Miller reports the FRS portion of the fund has been tapped six times, usually to provide fuel assistance in addition to what is available from the town. She believes that requests are about level with last year. Families looking to stave off repossession are sometimes denied because grants from the fund, usually less than $2,000, are too small to make much of a difference. “By the time it gets to repossession, it gets to be a pretty big number pretty fast,” she says. “Making one payment doesn’t really help.”

In those cases, she has found the assistance of Elizabeth Barnett invaluable. “She is an expert in this field and an enormous asset to the community in this time of crisis,” says Miller, noting that Barnett has helped families access resources to avoid foreclosure or find new housing. “Elizabeth is enormously helpful, knowledgeable and action-oriented” she adds. Once the financial situation is ironed out, the Carlisle Neighbors Fund can then step in to provide temporary assistance with a down payment or moving costs.

St. Irene Pastor Father Thomas Donohoe and Pastor James Weibley of the Carlisle Congregational Church have both found the fund to be helpful. Weibley appreciates having a new way to help people who are facing unexpected hardships. Unlike the church’s other efforts which focus on helping members of the congregation who are unemployed, Weibley notes that anyone can contact him for emergency help from the Good Neighbor Fund. He adds, “The hard thing is, people many times wait to approach us until its too late and they are in way over their heads.” He urges people to call sooner.

“We are enormously grateful to the donors and those who have added to the fund,” says Miller. She encourages anyone with a problem to contact the pastor of one of the churches, the COA, or Barnett at Town Hall, “Everything is totally confidential. If you have a need, don’t hesitate. We want to use the money.” ∆

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