Current photo from the Urban League’s website emphasizing its current work on voting rights legislation.

By Emely Salguero
Nonprofit Sector News
December 10, 2021

A National Urban League program designed in 2009 to limit home foreclosures during the Great Recession has been overhauled to limit home foreclosures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, Restore Our Homes, has been helping Americans, especially low-income and minority homeowners, attain and retain housing for many years, said Ayanna Fortson, the Urban League’s Vice President of Housing and Community Development.

“So whether they are currently behind on their payments or they believe that you know falling behind is imminent, then they’re able to seek counseling from our housing counseling affiliates,” Fortson told Nonprofit Sector News.

Fortson said the program’s housing counselors typically assess a client’s financial situation and do a type of “triage.” These counselors then walk clients through necessary steps and give them a time frame that will best guide them towards minimizing the chances of foreclosure.

The program’s mortgage assistance through federal funds is what most of the program’s clients seek for help, she said. The amount of assistance available varies by location based on location-specific guidelines.

Fortson said, “I think right now, you know, cash is king if you can help people by providing cash resources, that is largely why people are seeking our resources these days.”

The program operated a bit differently than it does now when it was launched in 2009.

Cy Richardson, the Urban League’s senior vice president for economic programs, told Nonprofit Sector News that a big part of Restore Our Homes during its early days were Home Rescue Fairs where people in need could receive assistance, in person, from certified housing counselors.

“Real time, you know in the moment, with folks clutching all their materials and documents from the banks, and so we were providing a real time kind of principal reduction loan modification framework for current homeowners in crisis,” Richardson said.

At the height of the program during the Great Recession’s housing crisis, Richardson said more than 30 Urban League affiliates across the Unites States locally hosted this program.

Current photo from the Urban League’s website emphasizing its current work on voting rights legislation.

Although the focus of the program shifted after the Great Recession housing crisis, he said that Urban League maintains the importance of its loss mitigation and home retention work through its current Restore Our Homes program.

“2017 was the last community based operation but again the program is, you know, a ship at sea that never reaches port, right, it’s out there and that’s how we kind of organize and kind of assess the homeownership status in Black America,” Richardson said.

According to Richardson, the next iteration of this program will be a joint effort between the Urban League and the Black Home Ownership Collaborative called 3by30, helping three million more Black Americans become homeowners by 2030. It will leverage 3by30 the same infrastructure as Restore Our Homes.

“Restore our homes would be active in the kind of home retention component to achieving this goal over the next ten years,” he said.

The pandemic’s direct and indirect effects means foreclosures are occurring for a wide variety of reasons. Americans also have been avoiding foreclosure in various ways, most commonly by seeking forbearances, Fortson said. “We’ve actually had a decrease in the amount of outreach or the amount of calls as far as community seeking assistance form our agencies.”

Restore Our Homes services are available anywhere the Urban League has a local affiliate, and Fortson pointed out that many of its housing counselors are from the areas they serve. One problem is that many people eligible for Restore Our Homes’ services are not even aware of it, particularly unfortunate for low-income residents.

“It can be very scary, and this is what we’ve heard from the clients, it can be very scary for them to navigate that on their own,” Fortson said.

When people who need Restore Our Homes find it, Fortson said, “They’re excited and appreciative because though us they’re able to talk to someone.” The Washington-based National Urban League, founded in 1910, has about 90 affiliates that serve about 300 communities in 36 states and the District of Columbia. It also provides services in eduction, healthcare, jobs, and social justice, in addition to lobbying, conducting research, and pursuing civil rights-oriented litigation.

By nsn2020

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