Millions Awarded to Housing Counseling Groups

Gale Hortob Gay | 3/6/2013, 2:16 p.m.

An infusion of funds to the Maryland HOPE Counseling Network has brought a sigh of relief to officials of agencies helping homeowners facing foreclosure.

In mid-February, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown joined other state officials in announcing $11.8 million in grant awards to the 39 members of the network, a group of nonprofit agencies that provide assistance to individuals facing foreclosures, act as mediators to negotiate with mortgage servicers and advise citizens on the best actions to take in order to save their homes.

The grants will be distributed over three years.

"These funds will help local nonprofits provide services to 20,000 Marylanders each year - a 25 percent increase from Fiscal Year 2012 - as we continue our efforts to build strong, stable communities throughout our state,"said Brown at the event, which took place at Refreshing Springs Church of God in Christ in Riverdale. The church is home to Sowing Empowerment and Economic Development, Inc. (SEED), a provider of housing assistance services for residents in Prince George's County and one of the funding recipients.

At the event, Jennifer Greenwald shared how, with assistance from housing counselors at SEED, she was able to receive foreclosure assistance and save her home. SEED will receive a $420,000 award, which will allow them to continue meeting the demand for services like housing counseling for residents in Prince George's County.

During the height of the recession, Prince George's County had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state.

"When families come to us desperately in need of assistance to save their homes, it has been great to know that the State of Maryland has had our back," said SEED Executive Director Lisa Butler McDougal. "Housing counseling agencies are doing all we can to stabilize communities and the economy, and the additional funding will be an enormous help."

Christine Gould, chief development officer at HomeFree USA, said her organization recently received a letter notifying them they would receive $800,000 over the next three years.

"It's really an important funding source," said Gould, who noted that it takes away some of the stress of having to constantly engage in proposal writing for funding.

She said the grant money will be used to add new personnel and continue counseling at-risk borrowers.

Gould said that previous clients they counseled were 30 to 90 days in arrears on their mortgage payments but now they are seeing more people who are one- to two-years delinquent.

"This will allow us to do more than just counseling," said Gould, who added that some of the money may fund moving costs. Helping people "transition with dignity" is equally important, she said.

Marcia Griffin, founder and president of HomeFree USA, praised Maryland officials for their support of housing counseling services. She said compared to other states, Maryland is head and shoulders above others.

"Generally Maryland stands beyond most states in its open-mindedness and understanding of the value that counseling organizations bring to the citizens."

HomeFree USA, which is based in Hyattsville, serves about 2,500 borrowers annually.