Four senators have drafted a letter they intend to send to key policymakers advocating for the return of federal dollars to fund HUD's housing counselor program.
Congress eliminated $88 million slated for the federal program to support counseling efforts for foreclosure prevention, as well as reverse mortgages, refinancing, and pre-purchase services back in April as part of a budget resolution agreement for the 2011 fiscal year.
Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) have penned a letter expressing ""strong support"" for the restoration of funding for HUD's Housing Counseling Assistance Program and asking that $87.5 million for this ""critical program"" be included in the budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins in October.
The four lawmakers are circulating the letter among their Senate colleagues, according to sources in D.C., and plan to send it to Sens. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, HUD and Related Agencies.
In many cases, local housing counseling agencies Ã¢â‚¬" approved and funded in part by HUD Ã¢â‚¬" are the only source of help for distressed homeowners.
Colleen Hernandez is CEO of the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, which operates a national hotline to direct homeowners who are seeking to avoid foreclosure to accredited counseling services.
""While the individual financial, sociodemographic, and employment circumstances of the callers vary greatly, their desperation for reliable information and guidance is universal,"" Hernandez wrote in an op-ed piece for _American Banker_.
Services provided by HUD-approved counselors are free and organizations working to educate borrowers about foreclosure relief scams say they are a homeowner's strongest defense against such frauds.
Hernandez says foreclosure relief scams are likely to accelerate if counseling funding is cut, and she warns that minority homeowners will probably be harmed the most, at a time when they are already struggling to deal with the possible loss of their home.
""Repeated studies have shown that minorities were disproportionately targeted for predatory lending during the housing boom, and we have compelling evidence indicating that minorities are bearing the brunt of an unusually high percentage of mortgage scams,"" Hernandez said.
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) is also voicing its support for the reinstatement of funding for HUD's counseling program.
In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity this week, MBA Chairman Michael Berman said, ""Counselors provide information to help households improve their housing conditions and choices, avoid foreclosure, and understand the responsibilities of tenancy and homeownership.""
He urged Congress to ""restore these funds,"" adding that during the 2010 fiscal year, HUD-approved counseling agencies provided services to 3.04 million households.