By Elena Ferrarin
December 5, 2008 


More and more people locally and across the country are being affected
by the mortgage crisis, and experts predict the situation will get even
more dire as families continue to struggle with income losses.

Foreclosure filings in the six-county region increased across the
board from the first half of 2007 to the first half of 2008, ranging
from a 54-percent increase in Will and suburban Cook counties to 73
percent in Kane County and 85.7 percent in DuPage County, according to
the Chicago-based Woodstock Institute.

The upside in these difficult economic times? Banks are more than
ever willing to renegotiate mortgage rates and payment plans with
homeowners, said Johnny Placeres, director of Neighborhood Housing
Service of the Fox Valley.

The agency is one of nine sites – and the only suburban location –
of NHS of Chicago, a not-for-profit organization established in 1975
that provides homeownership counseling and lending services. The Fox
Valley site is funded by the city of Elgin and several local banks and
insurance companies.

"Since we opened we have saved 19 families from foreclosure,"
Placeres said. "A lot of people don’t have what it takes to get on the
phone with the bank and know the right questions to ask and get the
best option for them."

Agency staffers can help negotiate payment schedules and loan
modifications with lenders, Placeres said. The goal is to do everything
possible to make sure people don’t lose their homes.

"We can’t save everyone, but we do all we can," he said.

The Fox Valley group offers a free, quarterly foreclosure
prevention class, in English and Spanish to all residents of Kane
County. Its lending services, which include loans to buy, fix and rehab
homes, are only available to residents of Elgin. An eight-hour,
first-time homebuyers education class is required to get a loan.

Since it opened in August 2007, NHS of the Fox Valley has lent more
than $2.1 million to 13 homeowners. Of those, four were first-time
homebuyers. Clients are mostly Latinos, usually married couples with
two or three kids, and mainly low- to middle-income, Placeres said.

The plunging prices of homes is also starting to entice people to
look for a good deal among short sales and foreclosed properties.

After many in the Latino community fell victim to predatory lending
including hidden fees and adjustable-rate loans, most people are now
more careful, he said.

"We are here as a way for them to get more educated, more informed," he said.

People who take homebuyer classes are half as likely to end up in
foreclosure proceedings, according to 2005 data from NeighborWorks

In the last four to six months, interest in Elgin properties has
increased, said John Groene, who oversees nine NHS offices as the
group’s associate director of neighborhood strategy.

"Lower prices are creating opportunities for people who were priced out of the market two or three years ago," he said.

NHS of the Fox Valley offers 30-year fixed rate mortgages based on
the current market rate, which has generally fluctuated between 6 and
6.5 percent, and was at 6.18 percent last week, Placeres said. The
minimum down payment is 2 percent, and no mortgage insurance is
required. That also applies to loans obtained with federal Individual
Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN), he said.

The next free, Spanish-language foreclosure prevention class takes
place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8, at NHS of the Fox Valley,
163 E. Chicago St., Elgin. To reserve a spot or inquire about services
call (847) 695-0399.



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