RHOPI Activity Update: Housing Counseling and Legal Aid
The following is part of a series of quarterly updates on the progress RHOPI task forces have made since its inception.
1. Enhance Outreach
Conduct early, effective and efficient regional outreach to households experiencing or at risk of experiencing foreclosure
2. Increase Access
Provide timely, widespread and affordable access to expert housing counselors and legal assistance to all people in need.
3. Improve Networks
Create a network to unify and build counselor capacity, refine information
transmission and referral processes, facilitate effective communication and solidarity between stakeholders, and build relationships with providers who can assist displaced households or households at risk of displacement due to foreclosure.
Update and Progress
While dramatic economic events and government responses have taken place over the past months, the priorities outlined above remain central to regional foreclosure prevention solutions. Both increased need and increased opportunities make these priorities all the more pressing. The White House’s Making Home Affordable (MHA) initiative announced in early 2009 has provided new opportunity for loan workouts that did not exist previously. At the same time, MHA has caused counseling agencies to face new issues regarding capacity, create new methods of delivery and outreach, and consider new outcome and process tracking implications.
On the national front, the proposed 2010 budget for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calls for increased funding for housing counseling, more resources to demonstrate costs and benefits associated with HUD-funded programs, and increased efforts to engage in innovative and transparent methods that build new and better ways to address old and existing problems. These elements all provide a solid backdrop for continued joint efforts to position the region’s counseling agencies at the forefront of collaborative regional solutions and approaches.
Over the last several months, lead agencies together with dozens of on-the-ground counseling partners have engaged in a variety of activities to improve counselor networks, deliver training and technical assistance, survey and document counselor capacity, and discuss data management and outcome tracking capacity and needs. Below are some examples:
- In June, 2009, Housing Action Illinois (HAI) and Woodstock Institute published On the Foreclosure Frontlines: Surveying the Capacity of HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agencies in Illinois. This report articulated the need for additional resources for counseling agencies, many of whom are currently working at full capacity and unable to serve all clients in need. The report further demonstrated a lack of agencies serving high-need parts of the region.
- Since October 2008, HAI has brought five place-based NeighborWorks trainings to the region and saw 136 housing counselors participate. In addition, 147 housing counselors attended other workshops and meetings convened by HAI to share information and strategies.
- HAI has provided one-on-one technical assistance to individual housing counseling agencies in the region on a variety of topics including: reporting and tracking for the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling program, curriculum and program improvements, and database and tracking assistance.
- In collaboration with the Legal Assistance Foundation, HAI put together and distributed to its counselor network two editions of “The Counselor Times.” This newsletter, which is published quarterly, covers financial industry updates, concerns in the field, practical tips (including an updated servicer contact list), announcements, and upcoming events.
- HAI convened regional in-person counselor meetings in December 2008, March 2009 and August 2009 to discuss industry changes, outcome tracking, and collaborative approaches to current opportunities and challenges.
- Counseling agencies have initiated discussions around developing standard metrics across the region to develop and share best practices in technology to support counseling workflow and to provide standard tools to document and report outcomes and processing times. Armed with this data, agencies will be able to tell the regional story of counseling successes and challenges. This information will be valuable both for communication to partners and to regulators. Discussion is underway regarding the development of a web-based inter-agency database that would allow real time access to client management across agencies, as well as standard outcome tracking.