As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania’s CEO Colin Kelley urges homeowners to reach out for mortgage assistance programs sooner than later.

By Ashlee Green

Photos by Lauren Stauffer

The Federal Housing Authority extended its foreclosure and eviction moratorium through Dec. 31, but that still may not be long enough to save residents in Pennsylvania and beyond from losing their homes due to economic hits spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania CEO Colin Kelley pleads for homeowners to be proactive in seeking out mortgage assistance programs during COVID-19. He fears that the extended deadline will cause homeowners to push off seeking out the financial counseling services his organization offers to Northside and Pittsburgh citywide customers.

“Come January, we are concerned we will see a wave of people who need help,” he says. 

There’s a lot that can lead to foreclosures in an [average] period of time, such as job or income loss, out-of-state job transfers, medical or credit card debt, disability, bankruptcy, and divorce, but it takes an economic downturn for them to happen on a mass scale. Kelley remembers the last time home foreclosures were skyrocketing: the Great Recession, which began in December 2007. He says the Great Recession was well underway before NeighborWorks and other agencies had foreclosure counselors in place to help homeowners in need. 

“Unfortunately, many homeowners were deep into foreclosure before these systems were put in place.” The organization is in a better position now, he says, to handle the economic ill effects of COVID-19. “What essentially exists now is a ready-made infrastructure,” he says. 

A few options exist for homeowners having trouble paying their mortgages: There’s the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) of Pittsburgh’s Housing Stabilization Program and the CARES Pandemic Mortgage Assistance Program (PMAP) (Application deadline: Nov. 4, 2020), for example, as well as NeighborWorks’ free online Foreclosure Education course and Crisis Budgeting service. 

If homeowners have no options other than foreclosure, Kelley says that NeighborWorks counselors can help them navigate conversations with their lenders. 

“Our top priority there is that [homeowners] reach out to a HUD-certified counseling agency so that their current situation can be assessed. Whether someone is current on their mortgage payment or foreclosure is right around the corner; it’s never too late or too early to reach out.” 

Foreclosure education, after all, is a large factor in homeownership from the get-go.

“We do like to say that foreclosure prevention starts the day you become a homeowner,” says Kelley.

Home buying has held steady during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelley explains, and right now, interest rates are at an historic low. In comparison to the Great Recession, where, according to Kelley, “you just saw home buying fall off a cliff,” the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet caused a full-blown foreclosure crisis. In time, though, that could change.

“Successive waves of COVID-19” and the “crippling of certain job sectors” are possible, Kelley says.

“If this persists well into 2021, we could be in a situation similar to the last time around.”

Find out more about NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania on their website.

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