In the recession and continuous roller-coaster ride of the housing market in the past years, people may have to scramble through red tape, frauds and high interest rates when trying to buy a new home.
Families in crisis fighting a foreclosure can face obstacles from all sides as they struggle to keep their home and maintain a quality of life.
This is where the Housing Opportunities Collaborative can help make sense of it all, offering free services from volunteers and agencies throughout San Diego County.
A nonprofit that networks with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the collaborative supports all aspects of housing rights and consolidates many partners to create a public service, providing counseling and workshops free to the public.
On Saturday, Aug. 27, at the Lemon Grove Branch Library, lawyers, HUD-approved housing counselors, banks and the entire network of the collaborative gave four hours of presentations and personal counseling to more than 100 people.
The workshop, called the HOME Clinic, included help with loan modifications and advice for first-time home buyers, assistance for those dealing with foreclosures, and bankruptcy law workshops.
The office of Congresswoman Susan Davis, representative of California's 53rd District, the San Diego County Library and the Legal Aid Society of San Diego Pro Bono Program were also part of the event. Davis said there is no question that home ownership is part of the "American Dream."
"In many ways we had a period of time when housing was fairly accessible for people," Davis said. "But now in addition to the fact that people are having a difficult time living in homes they have been living in for some time, we also know that it is making it more difficult for other people to come into the housing market."
Davis said the rules are more stringent now, creating problems in terms of people's ability to even sell their home and make this housing market work better for everybody. She urged her constituents to never hesitate to call her office for assistance.
"That is what we are there for," Davis said. "We certainly hope people are able to do that and today you really find there is information, resources and ideas out there that you have not had a chance to work with in the past."
Virginia, who declined to state her last name, is a San Diego resident who said she came to see a housing counselor and get information on reverse mortgages.
"I am 60 years old and unemployed," she said. "The counselor was very helpful to me in getting me the information I needed to know to begin making a decision."
As she left the event, Carol Miklavic of San Diego said she was happy with the answers she'd received and called the clinic a total success.
"I felt like I had no one to talk to," said Miklavic. "Everywhere else you go you have to fill out too many documents and disclose your life to a company or person you do not know. They were really helpful to me."
Jaqueline Kniseley lives is South San Diego and came to the workshop to find out more about how to get a home.
"I found all of the information helpful," Kniseley said. "I plan on going through the process. ... I needed information and I am here getting what I need."
Myrna Pascual, who works with field policy management for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is the founder of the Housing Opportunities Collaboration, said this community service program is free and all about the person in the sense of providing individual counseling.
"You don't have to think anymore about what is out there that is applicable to you," Pascual said. "We look at your individual story. We try to call in all of our area expertise. We give it to you, but it does come with a responsibility. You choose your own path."
Pascual said each family is different, with different resources and different degrees of bravery, and both are a major part of the big picture. The collaborative has all of the resources to pull in for each individual, and the agencies in the network are all top-notch, she said.
"We have HUD-approved housing agencies, fair housing agencies if you have been scammed or discriminated [against] before, and if you have problems going through this process we can help you by going through them one at a time with you," she said. "If you are here for loan modification or workout, or trying to save your house from being sold tomorrow, we have resources for that."
Appaswamy "Vino" Pajanor, president and executive director of the Housing Opportunities Collaborative, said Pascual began her work well ahead of the U.S. and California's housing crisis.
"It took years of her work to get the organizations together, learn to trust each other and become the collaborative," Pajanor said. "Two years down the road, foreclosure hit San Diego. We had no money. As a fledging organization, we had around $500 as a nonprofit. You can't do anything with that kind of money."
He said despite the challenges, Pascual's vision for the first housing clinic became a reality in June 2007, serving nearly 150 families that day.
"We are here now and the program is still going strong," Pajanor said.
"We have attorneys that charge $500 to $600 an hour here working pro bono, not to establish an attorney/client relationship."
Regional Director Manny Aguilar of Money Management International said his company was asked not only to work with the organization, but also to really collaborate.
"And that is what it takes," Aguilar said. "You see the attorneys here, nonprofit agencies, library, HUD and our congressional representative. These are free services for constituents, as citizens and taxpayers."
Aguilar said so many organizations work in silos that many times they never talk to each other. He said the gathering of the collective brings all the resources needed in one place and best serves the community.
"We provide bankruptcy counseling, foreclosure prevention and debt management plans to help people in paying back their debts," said Aguilar. "We can help people save money, get better interest negotiations. The key is that we can get people back on their feet again."
Aguilar said the workshop helps people in the frontline of buying a home and teaches them how to shop for loans, lenders, homes and interview a real estate agent.
"They are 70 percent more likely to keep their home by coming to this workshop," he said.
Money Management is open for calls 24/7 because, "sometimes you just cannot sleep when faced with these problems," he said.
San Diego County Library Director Jose Aponte said he became involved in the cooperative effort three years ago when his sister called from Florida telling him she was unemployed and losing her house.
"This is the real story of what we live through here in California," Aponte said. "One in seven homes is in foreclosure."
He said he was upset and had to find a way to help not only his sister, but also all those struggling in the community. He said libraries are "supposed to be the mortar that pulls communities together."
"My sister is a good woman that has worked her entire life to have that home," said Aponte. "She has never been out of work. I said to my sister, get to the library, go online and engage yourself with the process," Aponte said. "We [the library] are here for you today, and we are here for you as you work through the changes."
Sergio Quero, housing counselor and volunteer from Community Housing Works, said he helps families and homeowners in distress and looks for solutions for problems with modifications, foreclosures, loans, and short sales.
"It just depends on the homeowner's financial situation and the difficulties they have," said Quero.
In his third year of volunteering, he said his job is to explain options, provide resources, advocate and assist homeowners in dealing with banks.
"We explain the programs that are out there and assist the homeowner throughout the process," said Quero. "More than anything, the families that have come to the home clinics, I think they feel to a certain degree safe—in the sense that they are speaking to somebody who is unbiased."
He said there is no catch to the free service the collaborative offers to the public.
"In our situation, whether it is a modification, a short sale or even if their best case is to walk out of the house and let the house go into foreclosure, we are giving them strictly unbiased information based on their particular circumstances," Quero said, "not based on someone's intentions on someone selling them a service or a product."