Want to be inspired? Listen to what AARP Foundation’s Housing Solutions Center counselors are saying about the work they do.
Since the fall of 2012, the Housing Solutions Center – supported by funding from Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company ® -- has been helping 50+ homeowners facing the risk of foreclosure, offering practical advice and guidance to hundreds and hundreds of callers from across the country, in both English and Spanish. Its HUD-certified counselors have helped some 70 percent of those at risk avoid foreclosure, often by working with them over the course of several months to guide them through the process of negotiating with lenders for reasonable solutions that keep them in their homes.
A few weeks ago, HSC counselors received a questionnaire from AARP Foundation’s Housing Impact team asking them to describe their experiences so far. Their responses show, among other things, that the benefits of helping at-risk homeowners with foreclosure prevention flow in both directions.
When asked about why they had decided to become housing counselors, most respondents, not surprisingly, talked about the simple satisfaction of helping others. “I believe serving others is important,” said Lonita Wilson. “I prefer to do work that helps, inspires and uplifts others.” John Reno, who formerly worked for the credit reporting division of a mortgage company, responded, “With my old job I helped people purchase their dream homes and now as a housing counselor I am helping people keep their homes. For me there is a satisfying symmetry to that.”
Respondents also spoke about the fulfilling aspects of providing real help. That often involves a process of determining the client’s specific situation, gauging and then explaining options, and walking the client through the details of what’s possible. As Erin Chapman put it, the best part of her job is “when I educate a client about his or her options … and I hear in the client’s voice that something has clicked and they understand exactly what I mean.” For Daniel Rodriguez, it’s “that ‘a-ha’ moment when they realize what it takes to get [a loan] modified and understand the numbers so it makes sense to them.”
HSC counselors also mentioned both the challenges and the opportunities of working with 50+ homeowners. On the one hand, they found that people in this age group tend to be more skeptical and wary, some of them mentioning that they had been taken advantage of in the past. But, as Lonita Wilson put it, “once trust is established, they engage in the counseling session more fully because they see themselves as the major stake-holder in the process and trust that they will receive something beneficial by participating in it.” Erin Chapman noted that her clients “consistently seem to understand and accept realistic options provided to them.” John Reno mentioned that older clients “don’t have the sense of entitlement that I sometimes find with the much younger client.” And James Wells talked of a general positive outlook: “Most HSC clients understand there is always some form of help that they can take advantage of. It’s just a matter of finding that help.”
Almost all the counselors were eager to tell of specific instances when they had helped. Lonita Wilson had one client who was having a tough time working out a specific resolution with her bank. Lonita started with encouragement. “I commended this client for perseverance, fortitude, civility…. She was getting nowhere until after the counseling session. I gave her specific advice about contacting her lender, which she followed, and almost 30 days later it looks like the bank and she are now in harmony [and] on track to resolving the situation.”
One of Erin Chapman’s clients was deaf. “We worked through a relay service, and the client said he appreciated my clear explanation of his options…. It was rewarding to hear his positive feedback, and how he appreciated the extra time spent with him during the session.” Daniel Rodriguez, most of whose clients speak Spanish, told of a client from Colorado. “The poor guy had paid at least a couple of thousand dollars to a third party for help, getting nowhere. We started the process, and it took almost five months, but he did get modified and has a much more affordable payment now than before…. Although he was hesitant at first, he opened up and called me numerous times for followup. It was a lot of work, but well worth it.”
One of John Reno’s stories shows how the HSC counselors don’t just limit their assistance to financial advice, and also how they themselves get a lot out of the process. One of his clients “lived alone and was on a limited income. She definitely was eligible for food stamps. I gave her the number for SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and some local food banks. She started to cry and said she didn’t want to go to those places because she did not want to take anything away from people who really needed it. I had to gently remind her that she was one of those people who really needed it. She had nothing to live on yet she was worried about others – that really struck a chord with me.”
All of the HSC counselors relish the work they do on a daily basis. “It’s a great program,” said Lonita Wilson. “I believe it is reaching an untapped group.” James Wells sees himself as providing “comfort and relief to the client by making them feel they are not alone and that we are here to help.” Said Daniel Rodriguez, “To me it has been a blessing to work with the above 50 crowd.” Talk about job satisfaction!