In 2006, Flor Garcia had no idea how much trouble she was in for. She and her husband, with their son Dylan, bought a beautiful home in North Minneapolis, with mortgage payments that were affordable. Now, three years later, Garcia finds herself in the process of getting a divorce, with a restraining order against her husband, trying to keep hold of her home while keeping scammers at bay. With the help of the Neighborhood Development Alliance (NEDA), Garcia is working with her lender, Countrywide Financial (which has recently merged with Bank of America) to lower her payments and get her home out of foreclosure, and has also begun to volunteer with Jewish Community Action to help other Latino community members understand the help and resources that are available to them.
Garcia found out about NEDA through the women’s advocate who assisted her in filing a restraining order. Though she has always worked, Garcia was having trouble making payments as her lender increased the monthly payment just at the time when she had to support herself and her child alone. Garcia said the folks from NEDA asked her if she wanted to keep her house, and she said that she did, but that she didn’t know what to do. Since May of this year, NEDA has helped Garcia talk to Countrywide to decrease her monthly payments to the original amount.
NEDA offers services in both English and Spanish, helping families to prevent foreclosure whenever possible. They serve as the contact with mortgage companies, and guide clients through the various options, clearly explaining the steps involved, and assisting families financially if resources are available. Located in Saint Paul, they serve the entire metro area.
As she began to work toward getting herself out of foreclosure, Garcia met Dave Snyder, the Community Organizer for Jewish Community Action (JCA). Snyder says JCA strives to strengthen the capacity of the Jewish community to pursue justice, and to be effective allies to other communities, who can be powerful advocates themselves. JCA has an interest in North Minneapolis communities of color to challenge financial discrimination that homeowners face there, and to fight for fair lending.
JCA is a member of the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), a group of non-profit, ethnic, and faith-based organizations working together for financial justice in north Minneapolis. Organizations in NCRC include Habitat for Humanity, Hawthorne Area Community Council, Jewish Community Action, Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and Hmong American Partnership. NCRC goes door knocking in Northside communities to talk with people at risk for foreclosure, informing people about the free resources available to them. They also put pressure on lenders to adapt fairer lending practices.
Dave Snyder met Garcia when he knocked on her door, as she was on the list of at-risk homeowners. Snyder said that JCA and NCRC developed these lists from two data sources. The first is available thanks to a 2007 state law requiring lenders to send monthly lists of delinquent borrowers to agencies that do foreclosure counseling. JCA acquired the lists from those agencies and sent hand-addressed letters to people telling them about Housing and Urban Development (HUD) certified counseling. Snyder said that the second data source they used to find at-risk homeowners has been Hennepin County property records. Volunteers looked through mortgages from 2007 and 2008 in Hennepin County records.
Snyder said that when he talked to Garcia, she said she had been working with NEDA, but had been pulled away by an agency touting “an Obama Plan.” Snyder said she told him she hadn’t received a check yet. Snyder urged her to go back to NEDA. She did, and has also begun volunteering with JCA, going door-knocking and speaking to Latino homeowners.
“It was really fun, I liked to help ,” Garcia said. “I talked to a lot of Spanish speakers. A lot of people have some of the same problems.” Garcia gives Spanish-speaking homeowners a flier from JCA and tells them that resources are available to them.
Just as NEDA offers bilingual counseling in Spanish, other organizations reach out to other communities. Hmong American Partnership (HAP), for example, offers culturally appropriate counseling services to both Hmong communities and other organizations. Shang Lee, who heads the housing services program with HAP, said offering counseling services is a new step for HAP, as is joining NCRC, but the organization found that referring their clients to other counseling services had drawbacks, since many of the services available don’t have Hmong translation services available, and the counselors aren’t necessarily aware of the culture.
Reaching out to non English speakers is one way for agencies such as JCA and HAP to reach out to the most at-risk community. Both agencies plan more door-knocking events in the coming months. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for JCA, you can visit their website for more information.
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