HILDEBRANDT: Foreclosure? Who you gonna call?

Foreclosures have reached epic proportions in Ohio. In fact, Ohio has a higher number of mortgage foreclosures than any state in the
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

Foreclosures have reached epic proportions in Ohio. In fact, Ohio has a higher number of mortgage foreclosures than any state in the nation.

In Ohio in 1995 there were 15,975 foreclosures according to information provided by Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray. In 2006 the number jumped to 79,072.

Locally the state figures for the five-county area for the same period of time are: Erie County, a 488 percent increase from 75 foreclosures to 441; Huron County, a 1,010 percent increase from 30 foreclosures to 333; Ottawa County, a 340.5 percent increase from 42 foreclosures to 185; Sandusky County, a 621.4 percent increase from 42 foreclosures to 303, and Seneca County, a 232.9 percent increase from 79 foreclosures to 263.

Banking and public officials say there are numerous reasons for the increase in foreclosures, including a change in economic conditions (such as job loss or major medical problems), divorce, zero percent financing and predatory lending.

While these officials say there are some people who are blase about the prospects of foreclosure, there are those for whom it is a gut wrenching crisis.

As the state's newest treasurer, Cordray has started the Save Our Homes Commission. It is similar to the Save Our Homes Task Force he initiated as the treasurer for Franklin County in which lenders, realtors, builders, housing agencies and other government officials "joined forces to combat the foreclosure problem."

The effort is a noble one, but the trickle down effect seems to barely scratch the surface in our neck of the woods. And there is yet to be a concerted effort by public and private officials to form a local organization to assist individuals in crisis.

The packets of information that have been distributed by Cordray to start local programs include recommendations for contacts those facing foreclosure can make to work their way out of the risk of loosing a home.

As a test to see what success someone from Erie County might have in getting answers to their questions and advice on how to avoid foreclosure, I thought it would be worth the time to call several of the phone numbers listed in various fliers included in the packet of information.

The first phone number, 888-297-8685, is the number for HUD's National Servicing Center is Oklahoma City. The person who answered the phone said the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Midwest, with an office at 524 W. Perkins Ave., was the agency to contact.

The phone number provided for CCCS is 800-355-2227. The gentleman who answered the phone said there hasn't been a Sandusky office for a number of years, but that those credit counselors trained by HUD to offer pre-foreclosure services would be willing to speak with an individual over the phone.

Another phone number in the packet of information is 800-569-4287 which is a computer generated phone program in which typing in a zip code using the telephone key pad provides a phone number for a HUD-funded Housing Counseling Agency.

For Erie County HUD lists the WSOS (Wood, Sandusky, Ottawa, Seneca counties) Community Action Commission as the agency to call for assistance. There is no reference to the Erie Huron Community Action Commission.

The 888-995-HOPE phone number (with locations in five states, but not Ohio) sponsored by the Housing Policy Council suggested calling the Neighborhood Housing Service in Toledo. That agency services 11 counties, but not Erie County. A second try at the number and speaking to a different person directed inquiries to a Cleveland agency.

Another suggestion was to call 211, the phone number set up in Erie County for phone numbers for various agencies. Under mortgage foreclosure assistance, 211 only lists the Volunteers of America and Legal Aid of Western Ohio. Getting through to someone at the VOA is extremely difficult and Legal Aid in its voice recording promises to get back to the caller within 10 days.

There is no doubt that there are other organizations and agencies in Erie County capable of providing information to those who need help, but there is no central clearing house here for those who need to track down that information.

Wading through HUD-sponsored 800 numbers or Web Sites only helps to increase a person's frustration.

It seems to me Erie County should do a better job of helping ours neighbors get the information and services they need to save their homes. Whether it is through the 211 information service or another avenue, there should be a simple way for folks in need to hook up with those who can help.