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Foreclosure help is telethon’s goal; Event set for Saturday

By Staff | May 15, 2008

With foreclosures spiking to record highs across the country and the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area holding the fifth highest foreclosure rate in America, local governments and non-profit organizations are teaming up to help Southwest Floridians who are facing difficult times.

The Home Ownership Resource Center of Lee County is coordinating the effort for an all-day telethon on Saturday, geared toward helping locals who may have foreclosure in their future. Executive Director Eddie Felton said Wednesday that other housing assistance groups are seeing slow activity despite the record-breaking foreclosure rate. When homeowners finally do ask for assistance, there is little that the groups can do for them.

“We have people who come in and they are in denial,” said Felton. “They are not willing to say anything before they are seven to eight months behind (on their mortgages).”

Bonnie Timberlake, executive director of the Cape Coral Housing Development Corporation, one of the non-profit groups assisting in the telethon, said there is state money available to help some residents facing foreclosure.

“We do have foreclosure funds available for low income families here in the Cape. We see a ton of it going on these days,” she said, adding that it is critical for those who could end up in trouble to speak with their lenders and with non-profit groups as soon as possible.

“If somebody is $10,000 behind and there is no way we can do it, we just can’t give state money to help them out,” said Timberlake.

Homeowners who can afford their monthly payments but may have gotten behind due to a job loss or other temporary circumstance qualify for help, while those who overextended themselves when they purchased their homes do not. Residents who speak with counselors and prove that they can make their payments and simply need funds for a few missed months will likely get the $3,000 of assistance that the group offers.

According to RealtyTrac, a firm which tracks foreclosures across America, Cape Coral-Fort Myers fell four places on the nationwide list as it dropped from having the highest foreclosure rate to the fifth highest. However, the actual foreclosure rate in Southwest Florida has changed little from what it was several months ago with about one in every 80 homes in the area currently in some stage of foreclosure or pre-foreclosure.

Saturday’s telethon, which will run from noon until 8 p.m., will also provide a level of anonymity for residents who need advice but may be embarrassed about their situations. More than 40 people will be manning the phone lines this weekend to gather information about callers’ particular financial situations.

The metro area’s top leaders are lending their prestige to the event as Fort Myers Mayor Jim Humphrey and Cape Coral Mayor Eric Feichthaler plan to promote the telethon and answer a few calls on Saturday.

“Obviously, foreclosures are a huge concern in our community,” said Feichthaler. “Mayor Humphrey and I are going to be doing this to bring awareness to residents that there is information and help available.”

Representatives from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae as well as federal, state and local government divisions dealing with housing and financial services will also be on hand to answer questions.

Felton said that on Monday other workers will get together to “triage” the cases and determine who needs what assistance and who should be addressed first. He pledged that anyone who calls in Saturday will receive a follow-up call from the housing organizations within 48 to 72 hours.

In the follow-up, Felton said that housing assistance workers will try to bring the homeowners into the office so that their particular cases can be dealt with on a one-on-one basis. The Home Ownership Resource Center also acts as the liaison for the troubled homeowner with lending companies, and the service is free of charge.

“We are always the go-between person between the lender. We call them and we talk with them ourselves,” said Felton. “We don’t charge any fees at all.”

Homeowners who are concerned about their financial future and believe they may face foreclosure can call in to the telethon Saturday at 533-4663.