TUCSON, AZ – September 13, 2011 – (RealEstateRama) — The office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is leading a multistate effort to find the best ways of helping Americans who are threatened with losing their homes through foreclosure.
“Millions of Americans and thousands of Southern Arizonans are at risk of having their homes foreclosed upon,” said Pia Carusone, chief of staff to Giffords. “Our constituent services representatives have done a stellar job of helping many people and it is essential that we work across state lines to continue finding effective ways of providing assistance.”
Giffords’ office yesterday convened a conference call with constituent services representatives in 25 congressional offices across five states that are hard hit by foreclosures.
Giffords’ constituent services team has assisted hundreds of people facing foreclosure in Southeastern Arizona. In many cases, the congresswoman’s office has been able to have foreclosure delayed or canceled – sometimes because the actions were wrongly initiated by lenders and mortgage servicers.
Earlier this year, Justine Pope, then the congressional liaison for Fannie Mae, called Giffords’ constituent services staff “the Gold Standard in the field of caseworkers” dealing with foreclosure issues.
Among the constituents who have contacted Giffords’ office:
• A special education teacher who is on-time with her mortgage payments on a home she may never break even on;
• A terminally ill veteran being evicted while attempting to modify his home loan;
• An underemployed father of two children who doesn’t qualify for help due to insufficient income;
• And an elderly widow who lives on Social Security and has an adjustable rate mortgage.
The foreclosure problem is especially acute in the Tucson area. The Arizona Daily Star reported this week that after ebbing for the past four months, the number of foreclosure notices issued in Pima County jumped 38 percent in August compared with the previous month.
The Pima County Recorder’s Office said 917 notices of trustee sale were filed last month, up from 666 in July. In the first eight months of 2011, there were 6,430 foreclosure notices filed, down from 7,849 in the same period last year.
Statewide, 1 of every 273 Arizona homes is involved in foreclosure – the nation’s third-highest rate. And 50 percent of Arizona homes are underwater – have negative equity – the second-highest rate in the country.
Amanda Sapir, Giffords’ constituent services representative on housing issues, felt it was important to work with her fellow constituent services representatives in other congressional offices where foreclosures also are a major issue.
Sapir noted that five states – California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Michigan – are especially hard hit by foreclosures. These five states typically have the highest rates of foreclosure, the highest percentage of homes with negative equity and continued stagnation in home sales and recovery of the housing market.
Sapir felt it would be helpful to constituents in all five states to have congressional employees share information on foreclosure trends they have seen and strategies that have been most helpful to constituents.
During yesterday’s conference call, participants agreed there is a common theme from those facing foreclosure: They have great difficulty contacting their banks and often don’t hear back until a congressional office gets involved.
On a national level, there must be improved programs for principal reduction, lender accountability and more loan modification options, the participants agreed. Unemployment and underemployment are major factors that lead to foreclosures. And they all said they had reports of foreclosure scams in which firms unconnected with banks asked for a fee and promised to have a loan refinanced, but never delivered.
In October, Giffords called for an immediate three-month national moratorium on foreclosures so lenders and loan servicers could address rampant problems that have led to homeowners being wrongly removed from their homes. And in May 2010, Giffords voted to support The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act to help stabilize the housing market in Arizona and other states by providing tools and incentives for lenders and homeowners to modify loans.
Giffords’ constituents who have foreclosure concerns should contact the congresswoman’s office in Tucson at (520) 881-3588 or in Sierra Vista at (520) 459-3115. They may also go to https://giffordsforms.house.gov/services/federal-agencies.shtml for more information on services offered. Constituents should be prepared to provide their loan number; the amount of the mortgage including principal, interest rate and taxes; and basic household income information.
Giffords’ office has handled about 2,500 constituent requests per year for foreclosures and other matters – almost four times the average handled by the nation’s 435 members of the House of Representatives. It opened its 10,000th case in February and its 11,000th case in July.
Giffords’ staff receives about 60 new requests for assistance each week. Some cases are resolved quickly while others take far longer, with numerous phone calls and letters exchanged with relevant federal agencies.