Need help pay­ing your mort­gage?

Non-profit group of­fers free hous­ing coun­sel­ing

The Arizona Republic - - Valley & State - Grace Old­ham

Be­hind on house pay­ments with fore­clo­sure loom­ing, in­nu­mer­able prayers were an­swered with an un­ex­pected, mid­day phone call.

Ali­cia and Ar­turo Perez moved into their Tolle­son home in 2013, ea­ger to be­gin their life in the house they planned to grow old in. Three years later, the cou­ple missed sev­eral mort­gage pay­ments af­ter heavy rains put Ar­turo, a lo­cal dump truck driver, out of work.

“When it rained, it stormed,” Ali­cia Perez said. “He wouldn’t be able to go to work for weeks and it be­came a big fi­nan­cial strug­gle for us.”

Af­ter fall­ing be­hind, they started to look for ways to catch up on pay­ments. Perez said their prayers were an­swered with a phone call her hus­band re­ceived one day at work from Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Re­sources and Choices, or ARC, a U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment-cer­ti­fied hous­ing coun­sel­ing agency.

The non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, serv­ing south­ern Ari­zona and metro Phoenix, was able to pro­vide free ad­vice and match Perez with fund­ing from the U.S. Depart­ment of Trea­sury to help the cou­ple get back on track.

“The help we re­ceived was a true god­send,” Perez said.

Through fed­eral fund­ing, pri­vate grants, part­ner­ships and do­na­tions, ARC pro­vides free hous­ing coun­sel­ing to Ari­zona res­i­dents re­gard­less of whether they are fac­ing fore­clo­sure or want the tools to en­ter the hous­ing mar­ket as a pre­qual­i­fied home buyer.

Meet­ing the needs of the com­mu­nity

ARC was es­tab­lished in 1996 in Tuc­son as an el­der-ser­vices agency.

Evolv­ing to meet the needs of the com­mu­nity it served,it be­gan of­fer­ing coun­sel­ing in home own­er­ship, fore­clo­sure pre­ven­tion and re­verse mort­gages.

In 2010, ARC ex­tended ser­vices to

the Val­ley, fo­cus­ing on hous­ing coun­sel­ing in the midst of the fall­out fol­low­ing the real-es­tate crash.

“Af­ter the mar­ket crashed in 2008, there was so much busi­ness in hous­ing coun­sel­ing and fore­clo­sure in Phoenix that those ser­vices alone were enough,” Deb­bie Chandler, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of ARC, said.

Also in 2010, the U.S. Trea­sury Depart­ment es­tab­lished the Hard­est Hit Fund in re­ac­tion to the hous­ing cri­sis. Funds were divided among 18 states and Washington D.C. to mit­i­gate the num­ber of bor­row­ers los­ing their homes.

The Ari­zona Depart­ment of Hous­ing used its funds to cre­ate a pro­gram called Save Our Home AZ to as­sist el­i­gi­ble home­own­ers through prin­ci­pal re­duc­tion as­sis­tance, mort­gage as­sis­tance, re­in­state­ment of delin­quent pay­ments and other means.

New econ­omy poses new prob­lems

Though the hous­ing cri­sis has largely sub­sided, Chandler said the need for hous­ing coun­sel­ing and fore­clo­sure as­sis­tance is still there.

“The de­mand is cer­tainly less than it was, but the mar­ket is chang­ing,” Chandler said. “Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to buy houses and the econ­omy has re­cov­ered to some de­gree.”

She said many home­own­ers who are getting back into the mar­ket are buy­ing homes barely within their means and, fol­low­ing the re­ces­sion, have lit­tle re­serves for when fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances shift.

ARC hous­ing coun­selor Ines Huer­taGalarza said they are start­ing to see more home­own­ers late on pay­ments who have only been in their homes for a few years.

“To­day, the minute some­thing hap­pens — some­one loses their job or the car breaks down — there are no re­serves to make sure they will be able to con­tinue mak­ing pay­ments on their homes,” Huerta-Galarza said.

Perez said she knows this po­si­tion all too well.

A year af­ter the cou­ple started re­ceiv­ing mort­gage as­sis­tance through ARC and Save Our Home AZ for the first time, Perez faced an­other life-al­ter­ing hard­ship.

In Novem­ber 2017, Ar­turo Perez was killed in an ac­ci­dent at work af­ter be­ing caught be­tween two mov­ing ve­hi­cles. With­out an in­come and with­out her hus­band by her side, Perez was seven months late on pay­ments and fac­ing fore­clo­sure.

“I sat at my kitchen ta­ble and cried and prayed,” Perez said. “I knew I couldn’t lose my home — it was the only thing I had.”

Perez again turned to ARC for as­sis­tance. She was ap­proved to re­ceive mort­gage as­sis­tance through Save Our Home AZ.

“I had to put in some leg work, but I don’t know where I would be with­out this help,” Perez said. “Hav­ing the help that ARC is giv­ing me, I can breathe know­ing I can pay my light bill and have food to put on the ta­ble, so I can move for­ward.”

How to get help from ARC

Huerta-Galarza said it’s as easy as a phone call to see if you qual­ify.

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