The cascading effects of the ongoing foreclosure crisis on Maryland's economy, especially in Baltimore City and Prince George's County communities, continue. However, housing counseling and financial literacy services are essential footholds for distressed homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure and create successful outcomes.

"If a foreclosure goes all the way through the process, then a vacant house in a strong neighborhood is just as damaging as a vacant house in a weak neighborhood," said Mel Freeman, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. The agency trains community leaders, and works with housing counseling nonprofits to stabilize neighborhoods and educate residents about available resources to avoid foreclosure.

According to RBI Business housing metric trends, home sales in the Baltimore Metro Region, have increased by 5.9 percent compared to the same time last year, and is at the highest level since 2008. "The housing market is rebounding.

As the market improves, mortgage companies and banks are foreclosing faster because the last thing they want to do is extend the process when they have a chance to get the property back on the market," said Roy Miller, senior housing counselor, Belair-Edison Neighborhood Inc.

Miller said the initial fallout from predatory lenders and subprime loans is over, and after the moratorium on foreclosures and the National Mortgage Servicing Settlement of 2012, mortgage lenders and banks are working to clear their pipelines of non-performing mortgages. Depending on the neighborhood, most housing counselors agree that the number of people coming in for housing counseling is on the rise. "Now foreclosures are occurring in situations where there has been a loss or reduction of income, separation and divorce, medical issues, retirement, and weak homeowner budgeting skills," said Miller
He believes that clients who are willing to do the hard work to secure a work-out plan can create successful financial recoveries once they master budgeting and other basic financial literacy skills through training classes and workshops offered at his and other housing counseling organizations.

Miller puts it this way: "Financial literacy is the best foreclosure prevention. Do you want to buy someone a fish dinner or teach them to fish?"

Scott Satchell is the Program Manager at the Go Northwest Housing Resource Center, a community services non-profit agency serving the communities of Garwyn Oaks, Hanlon, and Howard Park. Like Miller, he works directly with homebuyers and distressed homeowners to purchase, preserve, and retain their home through pre- and post-purchase homeownership education, counseling, and technical assistance.

"Sometimes cutting losses and transitioning out of the home is the best thing a person can do, "said Satchell. He points to recent studies on the negative effects on health that chronic financial distress can exact on vulnerable populations, including hypertension.

One such study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study found that a rise in neighborhood-level foreclosures was a risk factor for depression in older adults. Depressive symptoms were associated with increases in mortgage default notices, with homes coming under the ownership of banks and with increases in properties going to auction. "The stress that the threat of foreclosure can cause on the developmental and emotional health of children and families is equal to divorce," said Satchell, who is not certified as a family or marriage counselor, but says his role as a housing counselor routinely touches upon these areas.

"We're blessed in Maryland to have a housing counselor network that is the envy of many different states." Through the well-developed Maryland Housing Counselors Network Inc, counselors like Miller and Satchell meet regularly with dozens of others to share best practices, connections to lenders, and special training.

A broad range of remedies available, including payment plans and loan modifications to help people stay in their homes, and short sales, deed-in-lieu of foreclosures, cash for keys, hardship assumptions, and renting back from the bank in circumstances where the person must transition from the home. Satchell advises that the most important first step in getting back on the road to financial health is making the decision to seek help. "The most important word to look for is 'non-profit,' which is free. If you're currently paying someone to help, then it's a scam."
Reaching out for help is extremely difficult and embarrassing for many people experiencing financial hardship. "For an aging parent, it is very hard to go to your children and ask them for help," said Satchell. "In most circumstances, there is nothing that anyone besides a housing counselor or a lending institution can do anyway.
"At Go North, we have a 98 percent success rate. We define success as the avoidance of foreclosure. In six out of eight cases, families own their houses right now."

For more information:
* Maryland HOPE Hotline Referral services 1-877-462-7555, TTY 410-685-2159
* CCCS of Maryland and Delaware 1-866-731-8486
* United Way of Central Maryland Referral Services 410-895-1453, aka 211,