Oregon’s foreclosure rate remains higher than the national average and our housing recovery continues to limp along. In fact, one group recently gave Oregon’s housing market a “D.” The best tool Oregon has to reduce foreclosures? The revamped foreclosure mediation program, officially known as the Oregon Foreclosure Avoidance Program (OFAP). Since the program launched in August 2013, dozens of lenders have filed thousands of requests for mediation. The program is working and positive feedback is pouring in from lenders, homeowners, and housing counselors.
But housing counselors are key to the program’s success. Counselors help borrowers evaluate their options, gather documents that the lender needs, and accompany borrowers to mediation. Participation by counselors trained in foreclosure prevention options makes life easier for lenders and increases grantors’ chances of success. The truth is that housing counselors are one of the most effective–and the most cost effective–tools Oregon has to stem the tide of foreclosures.
As requests for mediation have exploded, counseling agencies have struggled to meet the need on already strained budgets and with limited staffing. Emily Reiman, a manager at the largest counseling agency in the state, recently warned that her agency is “on pace to see as many clients statewide, just in this month [January], as we saw in the entire last quarter of 2013.”
At the current pace, counselors may run out of money before this summer, so they will be seeking additional funding from the Legislature. $800,000 is a small fraction of the $29 million the state received in 2012 from the National Mortgage Settlement, most of which was applied to the general fund instead of the homeowners that it was supposed to help. The Legislature should not hesitate to say “yes” to Oregon’s budding housing recovery by saying “yes” to housing counselors.