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Housing workshop aims to help those facing foreclosures

By Staff | Jan 7, 2009

Cape Coral Mayor Jim Burch and other council members are urging citizens facing foreclosure to attend a housing workshop Saturday to meet with HUD-certified housing counselors and local housing authorities to receive legal assistance.
The workshop is sponsored by the Florida Department of Financial Services, and officials from the non-profit Home Ownership Resource Center of Lee County and the Florida Gulf Coast University Small Business Development Center will be on hand to provide counseling.
“Foreclosures in general are a very, very negative thing for our city, our state and our nation. It starts in one home with one family,” Burch said at a news conference Wednesday.
The Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area led the nation in foreclosures for the month of November with one in every 59 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing.
Terry Cerullo, a representative of the Department of Financial Services, said more than 150 people have already registered for the workshop but he hopes many more will attend, even those who are not yet in foreclosure proceedings.
“It’s a good educational program to learn about the consequences of putting it all together,” Cerullo said.
Taking action early on in the foreclosure process — at the sight of the first past due notice — is key to keeping one’s home, Cerullo added.
“People generally don’t want to open those letters,” he said.
Eddie Felton, executive director for the Home Ownership Resource Center, said his office has been overwhelmed this year with people in dire financial situations, and he welcomed the attention being paid to the foreclosure problem by state and city officials.
“The city, county and state officials need to step in … and make lenders more accountable to work something out with borrowers,” Felton said.
While federal help in the form of $7 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds is going to Cape Coral, the money will be used to get people into homes that have already been foreclosed. Felton said preventative measures are needed, and the education offered by the workshop is a step in the right direction.
“The NSP — none of it is going to prevention. If people are losing their home, how can they pay taxes?” he asked.
Lighter coffers is not the only problem rampant foreclosures make for the city.
“The big problem code enforcement has is when (abandoned and foreclosed homes) become havens for crime,” said Frank Cassidy, director of Cape Coral Code Enforcement.
“It’s a real vicious cycle you can get into if you don’t handle the foreclosure issue,” he added.
The extent of the speculator-driven housing market during Lee County’s housing boom in the middle of the decade is expansive, but in a county with a 9.8 percent unemployment rate, foreclosures on homesteaded properties will likely increase, Cerullo said.
Burch said the plight of people losing their homes is the reason for the workshop and should not get lost in macroeconomic analyses.
“It’s the hopelessness and despair people feel when they sense they can’t pay for certain things,” Burch said.
Councilmembers Dolores Bertolini, Bill Deile and Gloria Tate were also on hand Wednesday to urge citizens to attend the workshop.
“I would encourage people if at all possible to take advantage of this opportunity,” Deile said.
Cerullo said the workshop is the first of its kind, but more are planned throughout the state.
“We’re taking it on the road,” he said.
The workshop will be held from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at City Hall. Those attending should bring the following items:
— Two previous pay stubs.
— W-2 forms from 2007.
— 2008 tax returns.
— Utility bills.
For more information, call 877-693-5236.