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Pasco homeowners ask for help staving off foreclosure

WESLEY CHAPEL — It seemed the only thing more upside down than Russell Hess' mortgage was the system to make it right.

The Hudson man, who said his home is worth less than its loan, wanted help figuring out his finances and the maze of issues related to his mortgages.

He had a lot of company in Pasco County this weekend.

More than 100 people showed up Saturday morning for a Pasco County workshop on avoiding the foreclosure of their homes.

They listened and popped anxious questions during presentations about their options at Victorious Life Church in Wesley Chapel. Dozens of them also waited up to several hours for credit counseling. A few brought children. One woman even had a dog in tow.

Hess, 46, waited three hours and 10 minutes as No. 26 in line.

"I think it lets you know what you should do and what's available and what's out there," said Hess of the county's assistance.

Homeowners have struggled in Pasco in the past year. Pasco had 1,284 foreclosures filed in December alone, research firm RealtyTrac reported this month. That was 247 more than in November, even though foreclosures decreased in Florida overall.

One of every 174 homes in Pasco was foreclosed. According to RealtyTrac, a rate of one foreclosure in 3,150 homes is considered low.

"Most of the people I see and deal with in my job … have never been in this place before," said county community development specialist Peggy Schott.

The county offers no-interest loans for low-income homeowners facing foreclosure, as well as other programs, which often use state housing money. The county provides help through Consumer Credit Counseling Services.

Sometimes homeowners can have their loans restructured to make payments easier and reduce the risk of losing their homes, said Joanne Whittlesey, the service's community relations manager and a counselor.

Pasco also is slated to receive $19.5-million in federal money — among the most in Florida — to reduce the number of properties that remain vacant after foreclosure. But that money isn't available to people struggling to keep their homes, Schott said.

And the system doesn't always make sense. Homeowners get stuck on hold for hours with banks that had demanded they respond to delinquent bills. Financial companies won't negotiate deals, some said, until homeowners are three months behind and have little room to bargain.

"You expect it to be logical," Whittlesey said.

"It isn't, unfortunately," Schott said.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6232.

Fast Facts

To learn more

For information on avoiding foreclosure, call the community development division of Pasco County at (727) 834-3445 in west Pasco; (813) 996-7341, ext. 3445, in central Pasco; or (352) 521-4274, ext. 3445, in east Pasco.

Pasco homeowners ask for help staving off foreclosure 01/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 4:32pm]
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