12:51 p.m. EDT, July 12, 2011
HOLLYWOOD Some homeowners emerged jubiliant from the Westin Diplomat Resort on Monday, snagging an instant mortgage modifications during a special day-long event in Hollywood.
Others weren’t as lucky.
In the first two hours, 612 people applied for help from the Help for Homeowners Community Event that was sponsored by the federal government’s Making Home Affordable Program. Struggling homeownersformed lines lines to register and then to meet with loan officers or counselors at the resort. By the end of the day, 1,333 homeowners had shown up, about a third more than expected.
“It goes to show you that a lot of South Florida homeowners are struggling,’’ said Andrea Risotto, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Treasury that was helping oversee the event..
She blamed the sour job market. Most interviewed said they had lost jobs and fallen behind on payments. Florida’s unemployment rate is 10.6 percent, much higher than the national average..
Mercy Del Toro of Miami said she and her family were among the lucky ones. Their mortgage holder turned their two home loans into one that has a lower interest rate, she said. The new loan also gives the family a longer time to pay back their mortgage.
“We will be able to stay in our home,’’ a beaming Del Toro said.
Their lender didn’t lower how much they owe: “That’s the bad news,’’ Del Toro said.
Marva Gyles of Fort Lauderdale said she is still waiting to see what happens with her loan. Her lender said Monday that she qualified for a loan modification. But she doesn’t have anything firm yet.
“I’ve been down this road before,’’ she said. Indeed, many South Floridians have become frustrated at attending events or applying for programs that don’t deliver promised loan relief. After two years of seeking help, Gyles said she still hadn’t been able to modify her loans Meanwhile, she lost a job but found a new one.
Getting a more affordable loan will help her get back to a normal life, she said.
Lily Calderon of Pompano Beach said she and her husband Oscar don’t even have a promise of a loan modification.
She has been out of work as a customer service representative for two years. She and her husband Oscar were told Monday by their lender that they couldn’t qualify for help: “We don’t have enough income,’’ he said.
Even with their loan modified, the couple wouldn’t be able to afford a new mortgage payment, they were told. “But I can’t get a job,” Lily Calderon said. “It’s like a circle.’’
Treasury spokeswoman Risotto said part of Monday’s program was to connect struggling homeowners with people they can contact at their lender to check on their case. Homeowners have complained about banks repeatedly losing documents and not having anyone to check on the status of an application to modify a loan.
Homeowners also could meet with housing counselors at nonprofits who offer services for free and are certified by the federal government to provide housing information, said Brad Dwin, spokesman for the nonprofit HOPE NOW that was created by lenders, investors, counselors and others.
For those who couldn’t attend Monday’s meeting, help is not out of reach.
Hud.gov has an online list of free government-approved counselors, said Kevin Maher, director of community education for the nonprofit Consumer Credit Management Services in Delray Beach.
The counselors may know of special programs that banks don’t, Maher said.
For example, Palm Beach County has programs to help some struggling homeowners, he said.
The state also has $1 billion in the Florida Hardest Hit program to give people up to $12,000 for up to six months of mortgage payments, Maher said.
The Obama Administration also has a new program, starting Aug. 1, that will give unemployed homeowners with FHA loans a break on part or all of their mortgage payments for up to 12 months.
To qualify, the unemployed will have to be 90-days delinquent on their loans, said Brian Sullivan, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development spokesman.
Those mortgage companies participating in the Making Home Affordable Program will also be required to give the year-long reprieve “whenever possible,'' according to a HUD statement.