Garry and Jackie Buycks were about to lose their home in the summer of 2008. The Kansas City, Mo., couple were $6,000 behind on their mortgage payments. They had tried many things to catch up: consulting a lawyer, cashing in an annuity, even borrowing money from their church. But they were still days away from foreclosure. Listen to the Buyckses' story
Then a lawyer referred the Buyckses, both 50, to Elizabeth Phillips, a housing counselor with Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph. She saved them just in time
"Elizabeth would stay late after work until she got through to Countrywide," Jackie Buycks says of Phillips' calls to their lender. "She was determined to save our house. It was a blessing for us to encounter her. We didn't know where we going to go or what we were going to do."
Phillips negotiated a loan modification that reduced the Buyckses' monthly interest to 5.5% from 10.85%.
The couple are among the fortunate nationwide who have narrowly avoided losing their homes through the help of local financial institutions, community organizations or religious groups.
Recent foreclosure statistics remain particularly grim. Foreclosure activity reached a record level in March, a 48% increase from March 2008, according to RealtyTrac, an online data tracker. Nationwide, foreclosure filings reached 341,180, a 17% increase from the month before, and first-quarter 2009 foreclosure activity was up 23.6% compared with a year earlier.
Nevada continued to have the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, with one in every 27 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing in the first quarter.
A church to the rescue
The First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J., started -- with funding from local financial institutions -- a program to save Somerset County homeowners from foreclosure. The Home Assistance and Recovery Program, or HARP, buys homes from distressed homeowners but allows them to continue living in the homes as renters. HARP's goal is for the former homeowners to be able to repurchase their houses in two to three years. Distressed homeowner: 'I was so fearful'
Since the program's start last May, HARP has expanded to several other New Jersey counties. In January, Gov. Jon Corzine allocated $15 million in state funds to the program, giving it a government seal of approval. The organization has already closed on nine homes and is in the process of closing on about 40 others, says HARP's founder, the Rev. DeForest "Buster" Soaries of the First Baptist Church. He says buying a home is a last resort for HARP, after court mediation, loan modification and other options have failed.
"Fifty percent of the people are in trouble because of loss of job or health care incidents," he says. "Those are the two main triggers, not irresponsibility or even a bad loan."