ST. PETERSBURG — Some residents are working to protect one of their most important investments: their home.
St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services is at 1600 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S in the Bartlett Park community.
The agency receives funding from various sources, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to provide free financial training sessions to the community.
Every other Monday at 6 p.m., homeowners facing foreclosure can attend a free seminar to get back on track with their finances. Housing counselor Scott Keeports, who has worked with the agency since September 2008, explains that the process to saving a home is not easy. In fact, it can be frustrating, aggravating and time consuming and it requires giving up some luxuries, especially if you are months behind on your mortgage, he said.
He tells participants not to be ashamed. "A lot of people are in the same situation," he said. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Florida was 9.4 percent in February.
Keeports passes out two forms that each homeowner is required to complete: IRS form 4506-T and a monthly budget.
The IRS form is used to verify the homeowner's income. The monthly budget covers assets, essential expenses such as mortgage, insurance, and personal property tax and living expenses including food, gas and utilities. Keeports said these forms are important because "people need to learn how to budget their money."
Next, Keeports explains foreclosure through a time line.
After 90 days or three missed payments, banks normally begin the process of foreclosure. However, before this process begins, a collection agency may try to get the homeowner current on mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure.
At 90 days, the bank will ask the state of Florida to begin foreclosure; if granted, the homeowner will receive a summons. This is when active foreclosure begins. During the foreclosure period, banks will continue to work with the homeowner to get the mortgage current or to come up with other payment arrangements. If no payments or arrangements are made, a judge will set a foreclosure sale date.
During this time, homeowners may receive "easy" solutions to sell their home or information from counseling agencies in the mail that charge a fee for services that can be done for free. Keeports says to beware of these solutions: They may be scams.
At the end of the seminar, Keeports gathers forms, answers questions and talks with participants to explain the one-on-one meeting with a housing counselor to create a plan of action specific to the homeowner.
Keeports, who has been assisting individuals with foreclosure and financial issues for 13 years, says he benefits from helping his clients and "letting them know there is hope."
With about 100 clients a month of varying income levels, Keeports says one of the main issues homeowners face is poor money management.
To Keeports, the agency is a "one stop shop" for financial issues, with training sessions for buying a first home, what to do once the home is purchased, how to budget your finances to stay in the home, and if rough times happen, how to keep your home. Keeports says that better financial choices can be made if people are "empowered with information."
Erica Hampton is a reporter for the Neighborhood news Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.