U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, right, talks with Florence and… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim…)
Tracy Jackson wasn't sure when she arrived at a foreclosure-prevention workshop Saturday morning whether she would be able to hold on to the West Baltimore rowhouse she's owned for past five years.
Two hours later, she was breathing a sigh of relief.
"I needed help with my mortgage," Jackson, a state Motor Vehicle Administration employee, said after meeting with a representative for her lender. "They helped me right on spot. I didn't think the outcome would be that fast. ... I'm not going to cry anymore."
Jackson is one of more than 1,000 people who came to U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' Foreclosure Prevention Workshop at Woodlawn Senior High School.
It was the third such event Maryland's 7th District congressman has held in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond to assist homeowners who are delinquent on their mortgages or facing potential foreclosure. It also provided information for people who want to refinance loans, reduce mortgage amounts or increase their credit scores.
Cummings said the workshops are effective because they bring borrowers together with their lenders so they can reach solutions.
"The problem is getting people together," he said. "You can't mediate unless you have a lender and a borrower face to face. It seems like a small thing, but it's a big thing."
The nation's foreclosure crisis damages individuals and communities, Cummings said after delivering the workshop's opening remarks in the high school's multipurpose room.
"I saw at least 20 people crying" in the audience, he said. "There was a lot of pain in the room."
According to Cummings and state housing officials, at least one out of every eight Maryland borrowers is at least 30 days behind in his or her mortgage payments, and real estate experts estimate that nearly three out of 10 Maryland borrowers now owe more on their homes than those properties are worth.
Borrowers say a big obstacle to resolving mortgage problems is that it can be difficult to reach the appropriate bank representative in a branch or on the phone.
At the workshop - which was rescheduled from Feb. 6, when a snowstorm forced its cancellation - borrowers could register in advance to meet with someone from their mortgage company, and the lender could bring up their mortgage information on a computer screen as they sat together.
Representatives for 21 lenders met with borrowers in a variety of school settings, from history classrooms to chemistry labs.
Other mortgage experts gave seminars on topics such as "Avoiding Foreclosure Scams and "Restoring Your Credit After the Storm."
John H. Isquith, manager for J. P. Morgan Chase's homeownership center, based in Washington, D.C., said workshops such as Cummings' are a good way to help borrowers.
He said his company has a "national travel team" that flies representatives in to participate in similar workshops across the country.
"These events are very positive," Isquith said. "They allow borrowers to bring in their documents, meet with a specialist, structure their request and submit it. We're trying to give people relief."
Not everyone came away completely happy. Jack Ridgeway of Columbia said he and his wife drove to Woodlawn only to find out that their lender wasn't at the workshop.
They were directed to talk to a representative from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service.
Others didn't have all the paperwork they needed to get a quick decision, such as recent pay stubs and tax returns. But more than a few came from meeting with a lender saying they believe it will help.
Ike Dike, a Nigeria native who drove from Lanham with his wife and son, said he is a real estate agent and loan officer and needs assistance because he didn't have much business last year. He said the only steady income for his family at present is the salary of his wife, a registered nurse.
"We don't want to lose our home," he said. "We've owned it since 1994. We want to get as much help as we can."
Dike said he didn't get any final answers from his lender, but they got to the point of recalculating mortgage numbers. "If they give us the figure we discussed," he said, "I think we'll be very happy."
Shigey Ibrahim, a Columbia homeowner, said she didn't come for herself but to support a cousin from Hackensack, N.J., who just lost her job and faces a sizable mortgage payment.
Ibrahim said she encouraged her cousin to travel to Maryland because her cousin couldn't find a similar workshop near where she lived.
Even for sophisticated homebuyers who try to stay abreast of the latest developments in the mortgage industry, "it's hard to navigate all this information," Ibrahim said. "It can be intimidating. This is going to help a lot of people."