Homeowners urged to seek free guidance from housing counselors
SALEM, ORE. — The foreclosure moratorium in Oregon will end this week on Dec. 31, 2021. The moratorium was established to prevent foreclosures for those who lost income or were unable to pay their mortgage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation also allowed impacted homeowners to defer their mortgage payments through Dec. 31, 2021. Homeowners who have fallen behind or are at risk of missing a payment on their mortgage can get free help from certified housing counselors around the state to learn about their options. Homeowners who are on a forbearance plan can also get help from their housing counselors to work with their lender on exiting their forbearance plan and making up any deferred payments.
House Bill 2009 authorized Governor Kate Brown to extend the moratorium twice, but the governor cannot extend the moratorium beyond Dec. 31. Beginning in January, homeowners who used this protection may be expected to resume mortgage payments and select an option to cure their missed payments.
“We’ve worked hard throughout the pandemic to keep Oregonians housed and to provide a range of resources to support both homeowners and renters,” Governor Kate Brown said. “With the foreclosure moratorium ending, now is a critical time for homeowners who need assistance to take advantage of other resources. I urge homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure to get assistance as early as possible. There is free housing counseling, and other resources are available that may be able to help them find a way to stay in their home.”
Long-term solutions are needed to stabilize homeowners experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. In the meantime, there are workout options for those in active foreclosure or for the thousands of homeowners in need of assistance to stay safely and stably housed. Most homeowners will need to work with their mortgage servicer or lender to select a workout option.
Free help is available
Nonprofit homeownership centers offer counseling services for homeowners, including budgeting tools for new situations and evaluation of mortgage workout options, such as modifications or adding deferred payments to the end of a mortgage. Housing counselors are knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated professionals who can help homeowners communicate with their mortgage servicers and explore their best options for keeping their homes. Counselors can also help homeowners with available mortgage assistance and foreclosure avoidance programs.
Search the full list of free certified housing counselors by county. Homeowners should be aware that some housing counseling agencies may be closed until Jan. 3, 2022 and may take longer to respond due to the holidays and remote working policies.
In addition to connecting with a certified housing counselor, Oregon homeowners should directly contact their mortgage servicers and lenders to see what types of mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention programs are available.
Homeowners who are behind on payments may already have been contacted by their lenders or may start receiving calls and mail starting January 1. Anyone who is contacted by their lender should respond immediately. Homeowners who communicate with their lenders and servicers have some additional protections and usually have more time to figure out their options.
“Each person has a different mortgage and a different financial situation, so modifications and payment options will vary,” said Emily Reiman, chief executive officer at DevNW, one of the Oregon nonprofits that offers free housing counseling and other community services. “Housing counselors can help a homeowner determine what type of loan they have and explain the options available for their situation. We can also help homeowners communicate with their lender and double-check that homeowners are being offered the assistance they are eligible for.”
The Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services recommends being extremely cautious with offers to help from unauthorized companies or people. Homeowners are urged not to provide financial or personal information unless they verify the company or person’s licensing status.
“Unfortunately, with the end of the foreclosure moratorium, we expect to see an upsurge in scams with dishonest offers of help,” said Chris Coughlin of Oregon Consumer Justice. “Homeowners should respond to their mortgage lender and reach out to a certified housing counselor who can provide free help in figuring out next steps.”
There are a number of common warning signs homeowners should look for that may indicate a scam. If a homeowner suspects they’re being contacted by a scammer, they can report it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Oregon Department of Justice or the U.S. Treasury’s Office of the Inspector General.
To verify a lender’s license, visit the Division of Financial Regulation’s license page and compare it with the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System (NMLS) license number. This number must be included on all advertising materials and should be easy to find. To verify a housing counseling agency’s status with the state, make sure they are listed on the OHCS website.