TAMPA — Josephine Cartagena stepped out of Jefferson High School on Saturday morning with tears in her eyes.
Her home is facing foreclosure.
The Carrollwood condo she bought in 2006 has an adjustable rate mortgage. The monthly payment keeps climbing, and the disabled veteran said she can't keep up.
But that wasn't the reason for her tears. These were happy ones. On this morning, she had found hope.
Cartagena is one of more than 100 people who attended a foreclosure prevention assistance workshop hosted by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.
In its sixth year, the workshop was a chance for those seeking mortgage help to get some face time with lenders. Representatives from more than 16 banks and 12 counseling agencies were on hand for the event.
"It's difficult to work with a loan service or bank over the phone," said Castor, D-Tampa. "We bring the folks in who do loss mitigation from all over the country to sit down and do one-on-one counseling."
That's why Cartagena came.
"The call centers are horrible, you get people from all over," she said.
The Chase representative she talked with on Saturday helped her set up a meeting with a person in Tampa to talk further about modifying her loan.
"It's like a beacon of light for me to be able to keep my house," Cartagena said.
But not everyone left happy.
"There's nothing being done here," said Ronald Roppolo of Brandon, who said he is frustrated by the mortgage modification system.
"You keep submitting the same paperwork and nobody knows what the other people are doing."
Chris Thayer of Tampa felt the same way.
Thayer said he was approved for the Making Home Affordable Program last year but his lender, Bank of America, has since retracted the offer.
He came Saturday to find out why, but wasn't able to get an answer.
"I just wanted to get assistance," Thayer said.
Castor acknowledged that not everyone who attended the workshop received a mortgage modification but she hopes they did receive advice.
"I wish we could help everyone," Castor said. "It's hard for those who have lost their job or have no income. That's been a major problem in this area with the high unemployment."
Robert Shelnutt and his wife lost the majority of their income three years ago when she got laid off and his real estate development came to a halt.
They applied for the Making Home Affordable Program last year but were denied. Now, back on their feet but with less income than they had a few years ago, Shelnutt said he hopes they'll qualify this time around.
The workshop offered that chance, he said.
"I'm glad we got that direct point of contact, otherwise I feel like we would just get swept away," he said.
The couple bought their Tampa home 10 years ago with plans to retire there someday. Shelnutt said he's trying to make that happen.
"We want to do the right thing, to honor our obligation," he said. "We just need the opportunity to do that."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or [email protected]