Dee Rains keeps a bulletin board above her desk covered with thank-you notes from the Arizonans whose homes she has helped to save.
The happy missives keep Rains, a HUD-certified counselor for the nonprofit Administration of Resources and Choices in Phoenix, from getting emotionally drained by the more numerous unhappy endings. Of the many homeowners she helps try to arrange lower loan payments, about one in four succeed.
The moral support she provides is just as critical as her experience. "For most people, it is just knowing that they aren't in the process all by themselves," she said.
About two-thirds of her clients are referred from the AARP Foundation's federally funded Foreclosure Prevention Program, which operates in Arizona and Nevada. Now in its second year, the program refers financially strapped older homeowners to HUD-certified counselors who can help them renegotiate loan payments and stay in their homes.
Since 2010, the program has provided information and referrals to 50,000 older homeowners in Arizona and Nevada, said Robin Bowman, AARP Foundation program specialist. Nevada leads the nation in foreclosures, followed by Arizona, according to RealtyTrac. In April, one in every 205 Arizona properties had a foreclosure filing.
One of the notes above Rains' desk is from Peggy Schmidt of Gilbert, whose 7-year-old adopted son will not have to leave the only real home he has ever known, thanks to Rains. Schmidt is a single, 63-year-old senior executive assistant to a dean at Arizona State University. She got behind on her mortgage when state budget cuts forced her to take 12 days of unpaid furlough.
For more than a year, she tried to get her home loan payment reduced. "Every time I'd call, I'd get a different person," she said.
Finally, she was informed that she made too much money for one home modification program. After reading about the foreclosure prevention program in an article in the AARP Bulletin, Schmidt contacted Rains, who revised the application. Eventually, Schmidt's payment was reduced by $282 a month — enough to make it feasible.
Another note on Rains' bulletin board is from Robert and Debra Hesler, of Phoenix, a couple in their mid-50s. Both have medical problems that prevent them from working, and they live on less than $1,000 a month. Rains helped them avoid foreclosure on the home they've lived in since 1992 by getting their payments cut by more than half, from $772 to $346.
"If you really want to stay in your home, fight for it," Debra said. The couple recommends getting help.
"Without Dee's help, it wouldn't have happened," Robert said. "We needed an advocate."