A Close-Up Look At The Foreclosure Crisis
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
One of the places hardest hit by the housing meltdown has been southern Florida. So, we turn there now to someone who has been on the front-lines of the battle to save people's homes. Phyllis Brown is a mortgage counselor with the Broward County Housing Authority. And she joins us now. Ms. Brown, welcome to the program.
NORRIS: Hi, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, we noted that Broward County is sort of in the bull's-eye of this problem - a spike in foreclosures there. Give us a sense of what you're dealing with. Just how bad is the problem down there?
NORRIS: Well, our agency encompasses all of Broward County, right now, as a report from the Broward County clerk. They receive a average of over 200 list pending of foreclosure each week. Our agency receives over - anywhere from 700 to 800 calls a week of families facing foreclosure. And they're seeking counseling from a HUD-approved housing counseling agency.
NORRIS: And how many people work in your office to handle all those calls?
NORRIS: Currently, it's a staff of four.
NORRIS: Okay. So, I'm doing the math; you spend a lot of time on the phone with a lot of people who are in a very bad situation.
NORRIS: Is there some sort of protocol that you follow in trying to figure out how to help them?
NORRIS: Well, we do. When we are contacted by homeowners facing foreclosure over the phone, between myself and our staff, we try to do, like, a pre- application, just to see what has happened. What we look at is what has caused them to get behind with their mortgage? Is their situation curable? Has it been cured? Can they afford the mortgage going forward at the current amount - what the payment is and the interest rate, and all of those factors. And once we look at that, you know, then we pretty much go from there to see how we can direct them, assist them better in trying to resolve their issues.
NORRIS: What are they looking for from you when they make that call?
NORRIS: Well, they're looking to save their home from foreclosure. You know, there are a lot of people that we deal with, or people that normally will pay, have been paying their mortgage. We get a lot of people that was in the mortgage industry and the banking industry. We get a lot of calls from them now, because a lot of those people are unemployed. And so, to them, it's just something new they don't want to experience. They're frightened. They're scared.
They're looking for anything that we can do as far as directing them on how to resolve the issue. And basically, they want to save their home. So, they're looking for help to - what can I do to save my home from foreclosure?
NORRIS: Now, you say you're getting calls from people in the banking industry, also.
NORRIS: People that have lost their jobs, yes.
NORRIS: Also, they're experiencing this from both sides.
NORRIS: Yes, Realtors, we have a lot of calls from Realtors; people that's been in the banking industry, mortgage industry, they used to do mortgages. Now that - because of the market and the problems with homes and foreclosure, they're finding themselves in the same situation.
NORRIS: Sometimes, when people think the news is bad, they just stop opening their mail.
NORRIS: How often does that happen?
NORRIS: All the time. Yeah, the first thing you ask them, have you contacted your lender? No. Have you opened up all your mail? Or when you do get them on the phone, and you call the lender, we'll do - when they announce it or we do it over the phone, and the lender will say, well, we sent you out a lost mitigation packet. Oh, I didn't open it up, because they think it's a bill.
And they don't have the money. So, they're not going to open it up, and they put it to the side. But a lot of lenders are being proactive, and they're automatically sending it out to them.
NORRIS: Phyllis Brown, your job sounds very stressful.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NORRIS: We have our moments but, you know, that's why you have to take a day here and there.
NORRIS: Do you have to take breaks during the day? Just...
NORRIS: Well, yeah, you do. You need to get up and get away from your desk because of the numbers of calls, our phones are just so overwhelming. And because you listen to everybody's problem every day. It becomes stressful and, you know, you're taking on their problems. You know, there's been many nights I tell people, I'll wake up in the middle of the night, oh, I forgot to help call somebody back, or I forgot to pay a mortgage, or I need to pay a mortgage.
So, you go home sometimes with these people on your mind, or you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about whose mortgage you got to do tomorrow, so, it is.
NORRIS: The president said he wants to help between 7 and 9 million families either refinance or restructure their mortgages. Does that sound realistic to you?
NORRIS: Unless they're going to hire additional housing counselors and people to do that. Because right now it's just, like I said, in our county, if my agency - and there's only four of us - getting seven, 800 calls a week, you know, I can only imagine what the other HUD-approved housing counseling agencies are receiving. And, you know, as far the staff is concerned, the ones that we know that we refer people to because we're overwhelmed, you know, they're at the point where, oh, don't send us no one else, we can't take on the workload.
NORRIS: Phyllis Brown is a mortgage counselor with the Broward County Housing Authority. She spoke to us from Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Ms. Brown, thank you very much.
NORRIS: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.