Berkshire Housing Authority launches programs to help homeowners


PITTSFIELD -- Brad Gordon calls it the "ostrich effect."

The director of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority said when people face foreclosure they tend to act like that great big wingless bird and bury their heads in the sand instead of dealing with it.

But they don't have to hide anymore.

With assistance from the state Attorney General's office and the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP), the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority has recently implemented two new programs designed to help county residents to deal directly with issues surrounding the consequences of foreclosure.

The Foreclosure Prevention Program, which was launched last month, assists homeowners who are behind in their mortgages and need assistance in preventing an unnecessary foreclosure.

The Borrower Recovery Initiative, which began last fall, helps residents who have either completed or are going through the foreclosure process get on a path toward economic recovery. Those methods include budget counseling, helping families apply for available benefits, and links to employment resources. Income-eligible families that have already lost their homes to foreclosure may also qualify for up to $2,000 in monetary assistance to prevent pending homelessness.

Both programs are free, but Gordon cautioned that county residents shouldn't view either initiative as a "magic wand" that will make all of their problems disappear.

"[They help] people make the best decisions," he said.

Both initiatives are part of the HomeCorps program instituted by Attorney General Martha Coakley, which provides struggling homeowners across the state with a variety of foreclosure-prevention efforts. The state Attorney General's office set up the HomeCorps program with funding from the state's portion of the $25 million that 49 states received last year in a foreclosure-abuse settlement the federal government reached with the country's five largest mortgage lenders.

MASSCAP was awarded a two-year, $7.4 million grant to implement the Borrower Recovery Initiative at different sites across the state. The Housing Authority was chosen to implement the initiatives in Berkshire County.

Funding from the initiative has allowed the Housing Authority to hire Jim Hamilton, the agency's first employee to deal solely with foreclosure issues. Kate Alexander is the agency's point person for the Borrower Recovery Initiative.

"This program is part of the process that will help us more effectively address this issue," Gordon said, referring to foreclosures.

Gordon said foreclosure in the Berkshires isn't as big a problem as it is in other areas of the state, specifically the cities of Springfield and Lawrence. But he said the issue is still "significant" and the statistics bear him out. Although foreclosures triggered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis have largely passed, the total number of foreclosure auctions in the Berkshires in 2012 increased as the year went on.

Just 67 foreclosure auctions took place in Berkshire County during the first four months of 2012. But they were followed by 105 foreclosure auctions between May and August, and 121 from September through December, according to the Warren Group of Boston, which tracks state real estate transactions. Gordon said those numbers are expected to remain at about the same level in the Berkshires through 2013.

"There was kind of a lull in foreclosures, and people were beginning to think that we're through with the crisis," Gordon said, referring to the 2012 figures.

"But really in large part it was due to foreclosures being frozen while lawsuits were being processed. That really put everything on hold and that led to the funding," for the two new programs, he said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:

(413) 496-6224

Where to call

For more information
about the programs,
call the Berkshire
County Regional Housing Authority
at (413) 443-7138.


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