October 10, 2008

Housing

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

By now, everyone’s well-aware of the housing market’s collapse. Thousands of Milwaukee residents have lost their homes. Thousands more are desperately struggling just to keep their heads above water. Hard times are here, maybe for a while.

It’s not all bad news. Last quarter, Wisconsin home prices rose by 1%, compared to a national drop of 2%. So there’s evidence that Wisconsin’s better positioned than most states to weather the ongoing storm.

But those statistics are of little comfort to those hurting now. The families in need of immediate solutions to the housing crisis can’t afford to wait for the market to straighten out. They need resources made available and they need them NOW.

In the State Senate, there’s not much we can do to impact the situation. We don’t have the resources to bail out Wisconsin’s homeowners. And we’re not empowered to affect changes in the national housing market. What we can do, though, is connect individuals with private sector resources. Indeed, we have a responsibility to do so.

Help is available from groups of all shapes and sizes. Large-scale housing specialists like the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC) and ACORN offer all sorts of services free of charge. For those facing foreclosure, both groups provide information on the process, the timing of foreclosure, and the options to avoid losing homes. For those further on in the foreclosure process, MMFHC and ACORN can help negotiate with lenders or identify new lenders who can provide affordable home loans. They can even steer clients toward credit counselors who can offer long term solutions – like establishing a budget or cleaning up credit.

It’s not just major housing organizations that are getting involved, though. Greater New Bethel Church, for example, recently received $5.5 million in federal funding to assist families battling foreclosure. They’re using that money to provide all kinds of help – not just counseling, but seminars and clinics. Greater New Bethel is also working directly with foreclosed homeowners to keep them in their homes, by buying up foreclosed properties and leasing them back at fair, affordable rates. That way, while families work to get back on their feet, they don’t have to worry about their home being taken from them.

If you’re being foreclosed, or are worried that you might be foreclosed, then make sure to contact any of these groups – or the many other Milwaukee institutions working to stem the housing crisis. MMFHC can be reached at 414-278-1240. ACORN can be contacted at 414-727-2776. And you can call Greater New Bethel Church at 414-342-9993.

The point is, these resources are out there, but it’s up to the community to take advantage of them. If you’re interested in finding out more, I’d strongly encourage you to attend the free, community-wide foreclosure prevention event on November 20th, from 2:00p-8:00p at the Northside YMCA. It’s a unique chance to meet with counselors, other borrowers, and lenders, and work on payment arrangements, loan modifications, or foreclosure prevention strategies. I’ll be on hand to help in any way I can. Hope to see you there!