- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Greta Davis owned a government contracting business, earned a master’s degree, taught at colleges and universities and purchased four homes over the years. She never thought she would face foreclosure.
But federal budget cuts led to her business’ long-time contracts being rescinded. She became unemployed. And her 30-year marriage ended in divorce. “It’s a shock to find yourself in that situation,” she said.
Davis sought housing counseling assistance from the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee. Counselors there helped her get a loan modification — a solution that has kept her in her Lexington Park home. “I just found that they were extremely helpful and, if anything, I would advocate that they probably need additional resources to do the work that they do,” she said.
The money is on the way.
Maryland is issuing $11.8 million in grants to provide counseling to homeowners facing foreclosure, and part of that assistance is available to residents of St. Mary’s County. The Tri-County Community Action Committee is slated to receive $490,000 to offer free counseling services to struggling homeowners over the next three years.
The money is part of a settlement that Maryland won in a national case against several banks accused of unfair lending practices, in many instances allowing customers to take on loans not suitable for them and being unresponsive when clients had concerns.
“Some people in a hot [housing] market were being convinced that they were entering into something that was sustainable,” said Reginald Stanfield, director of community programs for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. “It was a failure of regulation,” Stanfield said. “The industry changed.”
Other home buyers, like Davis, had major job changes due to the economy. And some, experts say, knew they were buying more house than they could afford and took the risk anyway.
Regardless of the reason, many homeowners are struggling. Foreclosures are on the rise in Maryland, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development. The department says there was a 53.6 percent increase in foreclosures during the last quarter of 2012 — 6,381 statewide.
In St. Mary’s County last year, there were 238 foreclosure events, such as foreclosure filings, notices of default and lender purchases and sales. That trend could continue, “especially due to the economy that we’re in right now,” said La-Ronda Johnson, housing counseling manager at Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee. Federal budget cuts, known as sequester, could lead to furloughs and layoffs for those whose work is associated with Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
The counseling services at the tri-county agency are free.
“If there’s any message I could send, it is to become educated. Seek out the closest nonprofit agency that has housing counseling,” Johnson said. “We have no financial gain in any process that they go through.”
The state grants will allow agencies to continue providing counseling, Johnson said. “Without that funding, we might not be able to continue that on a large scale.”
Independent professionals can run into rough spots, Davis said. There’s no shame in the hardship. “I just really, really want to work,” she said. But, Davis said, she has survived breast cancer and, with faith, she’ll survive this, too.
Economic challenges “don’t have a face on them,” Davis said. “They don’t have a color on them. They don’t have an age on them.” People who are having trouble paying their mortgages should seek help, she said, even if they’re used to being self-sufficient.
“You can sit here and be proud and boastful if you want to. Or, you can get busy and do your work,” Davis said. “For me, my work was keeping my home.”