Mayor Nutter today announced an aggressive outreach to property owners in foreclosure, joining efforts by the Sheriff's Office, the court system, housing advocates, and the lending industry to tackle the fallout of the sub-prime loan crisis in Philadelphia.
Nutter said the city will spend more than $2 million on a public education initiative that includes door-to-door visits and a hotline that will offer homeowners counseling about how to save their homes.
The hotline, which Nutter will push in radio, television and print ads, is 215-334-4663 (215-334-HOME).
The city's number of foreclosures is expected to jump from 6,200 in 2007 to 8,500 this year, when an estimated 3,200 adjustable-rate mortgages taken out in 2006 are expected to reset at higher rates.
Four teams are going through a list of more than 300 homeowners in foreclosure and knocking on their doors. Each team includes a representative from the Mayor's Office of Community Services and one from one of several housing-advocacy agencies.
The first teams went out on Saturday and knocked on 32 doors, reaching 20 homeowners, said Terry Gillen, the mayor's senior adviser on commerce. Eighteen of those homeowners called the hotline - an encouraging return, she said. Those same people will have to follow through by speaking to housing counselors and showing up for "conciliation conference" with the lender.
With City Council's support, Sheriff John Green suspended sales of owner-occupied foreclosed properties for April and May. In turn, a panel of lawyers for lenders and homeowners, along with Common Pleas Court judges and housing nonprofits, established a separate track for these cases that require conferences within 45 days of a foreclosure filing to see if a deal can be worked out. Crucial to the program is a time line that requires lenders to respond to proposals by housing counselors advocating for the homeowner.
The first of the conferences will be next week.
About 160 lawyers have already signed up for training to represent homeowners, many on a volunteer basis, said Judge Annette M. Rizzo, who is spearheading the program under President Judge C. Darnell Jones II.
"We are ready," Rizzo proclaimed at a City Hall news conference.
The city is now trying to reach a list of 667 homeowners, who were sent court notices about their conferences. Only about 50 responded, Rizzo said, but it is typical for people in foreclosure to shun court notices, officials and advocates said.
Nutter is hoping the door-knocking initiative will be an effective way to persuade people to get help. He has budgeted $40,000 to place his public-service announcements, but is looking for private funding to help raise at least another $40,000 for advertising.
That's in addition to the $2 million in the 2009 budget, including $700,000 for housing counseling to be spread among 29 counseling agencies; $300,000 for Community Legal Services, which provides legal advice to homeowners and staffs the hotline; and $1 million for the state's Homeowner's Equity Recovery Opportunity program, a financial tool that allows homeowners with bad credit to refinance their mortgages.