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Corroon: Tutoring homeowners

Published December 1, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During my tenure as Salt Lake County mayor, I became aware of the growing foreclosure crisis and negative impact that foreclosures have on our communities and on the Utah families that endure them. In 2009, I partnered with the Utah Housing Coalition and West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder to encourage struggling homeowners to seek counsel from certified nonprofit housing counselors.

I did so because I believe in housing counseling, and Salt Lake County was hit hard by foreclosures.

Housing counseling by a HUD-approved, nonprofit counselor is the best option for any homeowner who is facing foreclosure or fighting to keep afloat in a situation of negative equity. These counselors — located at a handful of nonprofit agencies in our state — are put through rigorous national training programs that allow them to provide essential information to homeowners.

Unlike many companies that have popped up in Utah in recent years, nonprofit counselors do not charge any money for their foreclosure services and are regulated to ensure that high ethical standards are followed by agencies providing education to homeowners. There is a significant body of research that suggests that housing counseling really does help homeowners obtain loan modifications and other resolutions to foreclosure.

Counselors also help householders who have been through a foreclosure begin repairing their finances. Without the looming threat of financial ruin constantly hanging overhead, these individuals and families can become productive members of our communities once again and won't have to rely upon other government programs to survive. Housing counseling provides a hand up, not a handout.

Many in our communities, including some lawmakers, may believe that foreclosure is no longer a problem in Utah. Certainly, we are experiencing fewer foreclosures than we did at the peak of the crisis in 2009-2010. However, almost one-fifth of Utah homeowners are underwater on their mortgages and, even with the reduced volume of foreclosures, Utah families continue to struggle to meet their monthly mortgage obligations.

It is for these reasons that our state leaders must act to preserve housing counseling in Utah.

Since the recession began, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development budget, which funds these counseling programs, has been drastically reduced. Last year, the federal government provided less than $300,000 to Utah for housing counseling. Though many other states have received adequate support, Utah has been left virtually unfunded where housing counseling is concerned.

Without funding, many of these agencies will be forced to terminate counseling services. With the federal budget still in limbo and the threat of sequestration that would devastate federal programs across the board, we cannot afford to wait for our national leaders to solve this problem. We must take local action now.

The nearly $22 million that our state received last spring from the national mortgage settlement represented an important opportunity for Utah to preserve housing counseling. It was widely assumed that the purpose of this settlement was to provide funding to such counseling programs. However, the Legislature chose not to fund these programs in the 2012 session.

Now that lawmakers once again arrive on Capitol Hill to make budgetary decisions, I urge them to re-examine this issue. We need to fund these programs and do our part to provide ongoing, sustainable help to families who need a second chance at success, in turn strengthening our schools, our communities and our state.

Peter Corroon is the mayor of Salt Lake County.