In every mortgage crisis, communication with mortgage servicers is critical. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and mortgage payment forbearance was enacted by Congress, NHRC moved to improve communication between mortgage servicers, homeowners and housing counselors. We have assembled a directory of mortgage servicer telephone lines and online intake portals for homeowners to reach their servicer directly. The consumer servicer directory is available here and we update it regularly.
We also have a second directory for housing counselors with servicer communication channels exclusively for counselors along with escalation lines for counselors to solve problems with servicers. This counselor directory is only available for counselors with HUD approved housing counseling agencies. It is on our website, and is password protected, so that only housing counselors will have access. As a result, servicers will know they are working with a professional housing counselor with training in delinquency counseling. And the communication channels will not be overwhelmed by users. Counselors will have written permission from homeowners to share information and discuss their cases with mortgage servicers.
Thirty-four mortgage servicers participate in the directory and early reviews have been very positive. Creating the directory prompted several major servicers to establish counselor hotlines and dedicated staff to facilitate resolutions. The HUD Office of Housing Counseling, HopeNow, and the Housing Policy Council provided valuable help in assembling these lists.
We will continue to update these directories. If you have any additions or corrections, please send them to Ellie Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. And for counselors, please share your experiences with the directory, so that we know what is working and what needs improvement.
On Tuesday, September 1, the Centers for Disease Control an unprecedented action and issued a national moratorium on most evictions for nonpayment of rent. The moratorium takes effect September 4th, 2020. The CDC declared the moratorium to ensure that renters can practice social distancing and remain in compliance with stay at home orders in their states during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Prior to this action, many state level moratoriums were about to expire.
Please note, the moratorium does not cancel or cover back rent, utilities or fees. It also does not provide emergency assistance for housing. The moratorium only postpones evictions.
A few details about the action; to be covered under the moratorium:
Renters must sign and provide to their landlord a declaration stating they have used their best efforts to obtain rental assistance.
Tenants cannot earn no more $99,000 in 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing jointly), was not required to report income in 2019 to the IRS or have received an Economic Impact Payment under the CARES Act.
Tenants must be unable to pay full rent or make a full rent payment due to loss of income, work hours or medical costs, and must be trying to make partial rent payments.
Tenants would be at risk of an eviction would face homelessness or forced to join other households.
This action may help some tenants; however, it does not go far enough. Congress must act and pass legislation that provides robust stimulus funding for Covid-19 relief for homeowners, tenants, communities and those at risk or experiencing homelessness. This summer, NHRC worked closely with the House and Senate to introduce legislation to provide funding for housing counseling during the pandemic. The Heroes Act, which passed the House, provides $100 million for housing counseling services. The Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act, introduced by Senators Menendez and Brown, would provide $700 million for NeighborWorks to support housing counseling services. Senator Kamala Harris introduced a similar bill, S. 4519, to provide funding for eviction and mortgage foreclosure mitigation assistance to States and communities with high rates of defaults, evictions and foreclosures.
Reach out to your Senators (esp. Republican Senators): Ask them to support housing counseling funding in any stimulus package. People are talking about the program! If your member sits on the Senate Banking or Appropriations Committees, this is critical. We want them to know about your work and its value and vote yes on the bill when its being debated in committee and/or when it hits the Senate Floor.
Tell them what you are hearing from renters and homeowners in your communities and why housing counselors are vital to the overall economic security and post-Covid recovery in your state.
Provide them with data on how many people you are helping during this time and show them evidence of how you are directly helping constituents.
If you need any assistance with advocacy talking points or reaching an office, please email Melody at email@example.com.
Everything is changing so quickly these days, especially for homeowners and tenants. Homeowners are confused about what is available to help them with their mortgage, renters don’t know if they can be evicted, and advocates want to know how current policies are impacting the most vulnerable consumers. Unfortunately, up to the minute data just isn’t available as quickly as needed to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At NHRC, we know HUD approved housing counselors are seeing this play out on a day to day basis with consumers they are trying to help. In order to inform advocates and policy makers, we created a short survey asking housing counselors a few questions about what they are seeing and hearing from their clients.
With responses from housing counselors from across the country, a few key pieces of data have become clear:
90% of counselors reported hearing from delinquent borrowers who have not chosen to enter forbearance. The top three reasons counselors hear:
Fear of lump sum repayment
Did not know they could get a forbearance
Not able to get through to their servicer
70% report concerns about effective communication between homeowners and servicers. This lack of effective communication made housing counselors hesitant to support automatic forbearance for those that are delinquent. (As a policy matter, NHRC supports automatic forbearance for borrowers who are 60 day delinquent and not communicating with their servicer; because the alternative is initiating foreclosure with the increased costs and possibility of losing their home during the COVID-19 crisis.)
75% report hearing from tenants that need assistance with rent and/or have questions about their rights.
The information gathered in this survey has been useful in alerting advocates, policy makers, and regulators to what is happening on the ground, right now. Already, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has used the information we gathered to inform a letter they sent to the GSE’s (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Key takeaways from the letters: Communication with consumers about help that is available and access to key data points are imperative to ensure we don’t repeat mistakes that brought on the foreclosure crisis.
On July 31, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published its Interim Final Rule on its website to announce a delay in the deadline for housing counselors to become HUD certified. The pause is meant to ensure that vital housing counseling services remain available to the nation’s homebuyers and renters, particularly those who need housing and mortgage assistance to recover financially from the effects of the COVID-19 emergency. The Interim Final Rule will be subsequently published for comment in the Federal Register.
This effort was led by many advocates and stakeholders, including Senator Tina Smith. U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) says that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson heeded her call to extend the August 1, 2020 deadline for housing counselor certification for HUD’s Housing Counseling Assistance Program by at least one year. Smith led a group of Senators in pressing Secretary Carson for this extension so that counseling agencies can continue to get members of their organization certified. Many agencies would have been unable to complete this process before August 1 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and therefore risked losing HUD funding.
“I fought for this extension to prevent a disruption in the delivery of housing counseling services in communities across the country,” said Sen. Smith. “These services are important, and will be in greater demand as temporary protections for homeowners and renters expire. It is vital that community organizations receive the resources necessary to help households maintain stable housing.” — Senator Tina Smith
The Senators who signed the letter are:
Senator Tina Smith (D-MN)
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA)
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)
Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV)
Senator Richard Blumenthal
Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
Senator Cory A. Booker (D-NJ)
On July 16, House Financial Services Committee held a virtual hearing, entitled Protecting Homeowners During the Pandemic: Oversight of Mortgage Servicers’ Implementation of the CARES Act within the Subcommitee on Oversight and Investigations.
One of the witnesses, Marcia Griffin, is the Founder and President of HomeFree-USA, and one of NHRC’s national partners in housing counseling advocacy. She made the case before the subcommittee on the issues that housing counselors are seeing in CARES Act-related mortgage servicing during these early stages of economic impacts of the Covid-19 Pandmeic. Below is an excerpt from her testimony.
Today, about 4.2M homeowners, or roughly 9 percent of all homeowners are in some form of mortgage forbearance or CARES Act payment forbearance. While new forbearances are leveling off, we anticipate a modest increase once unemployment benefits run out which would cause the percentage to tick closer to 11 percent. Assuming one out of 10 homeowners need more advice and help in setting up repayment terms, the housing counseling industry needs at least $220M for one year and $700 million for a full program to address the needs of housing consumers in this crisis.
NHRC is grateful that partners like HomeFree-USA are making the case for funding. Congress is still in talks around a Phase 4 Stimulus Package to address Covid-19 and we are advocating for any package to include funding for housing counseling assistance.
We are still advocating for S. 4098, the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act, sponsored by Senators Brown(D-OH) and Menendez(D-NJ). This legislation would provide for $700 million for Housing Counseling Assistance during the pandemic. The Heroes Act, passed by the House, would provide for $100 million for Housing Counseling Assistance.
NHRC supports both pieces of legislation.
More information about the House Financial Services hearing can be found HERE.