My name is Sylvia Alvarez, and I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Housing & Education Alliance (HEA)—a HUD-approved housing counseling agency based in Tampa, Florida. Our mission is to provide and sustain homeownership opportunities to empower individuals and families for the greater good of our community. To date, HEA has delivered more than 360,000 hours of education and one-on-one counseling to over 18,000 homeowners throughout the Tampa Bay area.
As you can imagine, the housing crisis has greatly changed the nature of our work. Like many housing counseling organizations across the country, we are facing unprecedented demand for our services. Housing counselors are where “the rubber hits the road”—a critical meeting point between mortgage companies and homeowners. And although our resources have been greatly strained in the housing crisis, we go to great lengths to do everything we can to assist every struggling homeowner who turns to us for help.
Even though we have begun to see signs that the local economy here in Florida is getting stronger, we have not come close to a full recovery and there are still many homeowners in need of assistance. That is why I was so disheartened to learn that some Members of Congress are proposing to end HAMP SM and other housing programs designed to help struggling homeowners. While the process has been far from perfect, doing anything now that dials back the number of options available for struggling homeowners is absolutely a step in the wrong direction. It threatens any progress that has been made and the recovery that we have been so desperately working toward. Without any other plan in place to help struggling homeowners, it leaves potentially hundreds of thousands of homeowners without any source for assistance. It turns everything back to the mortgage companies, without any accountability or standard to measure their efforts. This is a frightening prospect. My organization can provide many examples that show that the track record servicers have demonstrated on their own has been far below par.
What I ask of those who seek to eliminate a program that has helped over 600,000 families is, “What do you offer in its place?” Many of us in the hardest-hit states would gladly welcome more support, not less. The majority of homeowners who come to us for help are struggling through no fault of their own. In many cases, they have been hit by unemployment or have seen their hours or wages cut back. Many homeowners have seen the value of their homes dwindle. Most homeowners have already tried to work with their mortgage company before coming to us—without any success. These homeowners are overwhelmed and frightened at the prospect of facing foreclosure, and unsure of what to do next. We see the faces of these families every day, and we feel their pain. HAMP has been the only effort that has pushed mortgage companies to offer more assistance to struggling homeowners. Although it is only a voluntary program, it has established important standards and protections that many would like to see be adopted across the industry. It has been a step in the right direction in the midst of the worst housing crisis we will likely see in our lifetimes.
I invite anyone who thinks the country is ready to eliminate any foreclosure prevention program to come and spend the day working with a housing counselor. I think they will quickly see the risk that such an effort could pose to our recovery and to struggling homeowners across the country. We cannot sit idly by while this crisis rips at the very core of our foundation—the American Dream.
For more information about the Housing & Education Alliance, visit: http://www.myhomeamerica.org/
Sylvia Alvarez is Executive Director of the Housing & Education Alliance in Tampa, FL