News

Governor’s Housing Capital Budget Includes Funding for MACDC Priorities

May 15th, 2017 by Don Bianchi

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker released his capital budget for Fiscal Year 2018, and the affordable housing capital budget increased by $9 million to a total of $221 million.

In just two years, the housing capital budget has increased by almost $25 million.  Most of this increase is in funding for preservation of affordable housing in projects where affordability is at risk of being lost.  The Governor is supplementing state bond funds with additional dollars from MassHousing and the new National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to boost total capital spending for affordable housing.

Other MACDC priorities also received support in the capital budget.  The budget includes $2.65 million for the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, administered by MassDevelopment, for the assessment, remediation, and redevelopment of environmentally contaminated sites.  Unfortunately, this funding level is less than half what MACDC believes is necessary to meet demand.  The Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) will have $250,000 in new dollars to provide grants to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to match federal or private dollars in support of small business development.  Through the Massachusetts Food Trust, CDFIs will also receive $1 million in grants to support loans to ventures that increase access to healthy foods.

CLICK HERE for a spreadsheet with the details of the FY18 housing capital budget, along with a comparison of how the budget has varied over the past five years.

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DHCD Awards National Housing Trust Funding for Supportive Housing

May 9th, 2017 by Don Bianchi

On March 29, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) announced funding for 177 affordable units in seven supportive housing projects, providing project funding coupled with rental assistance and funding for support services for these projects targeted to serving Extremely Low Income and homeless individuals and families.

MACDC Members again figured prominently in the Commonwealth’s efforts to serve the neediest households.  Two projects, including 38 affordable units, were sponsored by MACDC Members: The Neighborhood Developers and Worcester Common Ground.

DHCD has held three prior Supportive Housing Rounds since 2014; through these targeted funding rounds, DHCD has now awarded funding to over 900 homes for low-income individuals and families needing housing and support services.  In this round, DHCD provided almost $17 million in subsidies and low income housing tax credits, along with $3.1 million from the National Housing Trust Fund, a newly authorized federal program that supports the development of affordable housing for individuals and families with the greatest needs.  With funding for this and other federal housing programs at risk, the DHCD awards underscore the need to continue federal support for housing vulnerable populations.

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OneHolyoke CDC Teams with Attorney General’s Office to Turn Blight into Opportunity

March 21st, 2017 by Don Bianchi

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Initiative” as “an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something,” an apt description for The Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI).  AHI is a partnership among the Attorney General (AG), municipalities, the courts, and private organizations, including CDCs, to address seriously blighted properties whose owners are neglecting them.

As described on the AG’s website, blighted properties, abandoned by their owners in residential areas, create safety hazards, attract crime, and lower property values. AHI uses the enforcement authority of the State Sanitary Code to turn these properties around.  Working in close partnership with cities and towns, the AGO seeks out delinquent owners of abandoned residential property and encourages them to voluntarily repair their properties and make them secure.  If owners refuse, then AGO attorneys will petition the relevant court to appoint a receiver to bring the property up to code.

One such property, a single-family home at 140 Beech Street in Holyoke, had been abandoned years before.  The bank was taking no action on its mortgage, the roof was failing, and all the plumbing was stolen.  When the Springfield Housing Court appointed OneHolyoke CDC as Receiver and they first made entry, job one was removing over 100 used hypodermic needles laying throughout the interior.  The CDC’s cost estimate to simply bring the house to compliance with the State Sanitary Code exceeded what they could sell it for.  Enter the City of Holyoke’s Office of Community Development, which provided the needed subsidy using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to upgrade the home into an attractive, livable, and marketable residence.  Once on the path to almost certain demolition, this beautiful home will be sold this spring to a young family of four, who could only access homeownership through a program like this.

Here’s how Receivership works.  When a municipality invites the AG’s office to intervene, and the court concurs, the AG will invite the owner to meet, with the hope of reaching an agreement to address the property’s repair needs. If these negotiations fail, and owners do not respond to complaints, the State Sanitary Code permits the AG and/or the municipality to petition the court to appoint a receiver.  The State Code allows the receiver to place a lien against the property for all costs incurred by the receiver during the project, which is given a priority over all existing liens, except municipal liens.  At the conclusion of the receivership, which is generally six months to one year, the owner may reimburse the receiver for costs and clear the lien.  If the owner cannot or will not pay the costs, the receiver can foreclose on the lien, and the property is sold at auction to the highest bidder.

The need for aggressive action on blighted properties persists, as some communities have still not recovered fully from the effects of the foreclosure crisis. When Attorney General Maura Healey announced the expansion of AHI in 2016, she noted that “in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, the rehabilitation of abandoned properties is the next important phase of our recovery for families and our communities.  Abandoned properties are public safety hazards, reduce property values, and hinder economic development.” AHI operates in 88 cities and towns statewide.

The success of AHI in Holyoke is one example of the effectiveness of targeted, collaborative effort.  Michael Moriarty, the Director of OneHolyoke CDC, cites their role as a Receiver for 140 Beech Street in Holyoke as one of the proudest moments of his career.  Thanks to a resolute Attorney General, determined municipal officials, proactive courts, and responsible receivers stepping up, municipalities have a strong tool to tackle a sometimes-intractable problem, and offer opportunities to families needing quality, affordable homes.

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DHCD and MassHousing Launch Community Scale Housing Initiative

March 2nd, 2017 by Don Bianchi

The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and MassHousing issued a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Community Scale Housing Initiative (CSHI). This is a great opportunity for sponsors of smaller rental projects (5-20 units) to have these projects considered outside of the DHCD Tax Credit Rental Rounds.

MACDC has long advocated for a separate funding round for these community-scale projects.  These more modest scale projects are necessary if the Commonwealth is to see affordable housing built in more communities in Massachusetts, including suburban areas with little or no affordable housing, rural areas where the smaller scale is more appropriate, and infill locations in Gateway Cities where small projects can have a catalytic impact on neighborhoods.  MACDC’s analysis of data from DHCD’s last seven “regular” rental rounds (excluding rounds dedicated to supportive housing) demonstrates the challenges that smaller projects face in these rounds focused on tax credit projects.  Of the almost 10,000 units awarded funding in these seven rental rounds, dating back to 2011, less than 3% of the units were in projects of fewer than 20 units which did not utilize low income housing tax credits.

This should change with the launch of CSHI.  Under the NOFA, production projects of at least 5, but no more than 20 rental units, located in communities outside of Boston, are eligible.  Units are considered affordable if targeted to households with incomes at or below 80% of area median income.  The maximum subsidy per CSHI affordable unit is $150,000 if project-based rental assistance is sought, and $200,000 otherwise, with the maximum project subsidy of $1 million.  Projects must be ready to proceed to closing and construction within 12 months of award.  CSHI will make $10 million available from a combination of an allocation of $5 million from DHCD’s Housing Stabilization Fund and $5 million in new money from MassHousing’s Opportunity Fund.

DHCD and MassHousing will hold an information session on March 15 at 11:30 a.m., in the dining room of Shillman House at 49 Edmands Road in Framingham.  Anyone interested in attending this session should email Bertha Borin at DHCD to reserve a seat.  Those with questions about the NOFA can contact Lynn Shields at MassHousing at 617-854-1381.

MACDC President and CEO Joe Kriesberg praised the launch of the new program.  “Community scale projects are incredibly valuable in urban, rural and suburban communities, but are currently difficult to finance in an affordable housing system oriented around the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.  Tax credit deals typically require 20 or more units, and securing the resources necessary for these smaller projects is difficult, even with their reasonable development costs. The Community Scale Housing Initiative program is a smart way to overcome these challenges, so we can build cost effective homes that fit nicely into the existing neighborhood context and market.  MACDC thanks MassHousing, the Department of Housing and Community Development, and the Baker Administration for their creative approach to this challenge, and for their response to the need for such a program that has been expressed by MACDC and others.”

MACDC appreciates the efforts of its members and allies in working with MACDC to achieve this victory in securing the launch of this valuable program.

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Important Changes to Get the Lead Out Program Will Improve Children's Health

October 28th, 2016 by Don Bianchi

MassHousing has announced significant enhancements to the Get the Lead Out Program (GTLO).   GTLO provides low-cost financing to owners of 1-4 family properties to remove lead paint from their homes and reduce the possibilities of lead poisoning in children.   These enhancements will make it easier for all families throughout the Commonwealth to gain access to GTLO funds.  Removing certain obstacles will also allow additional Lenders and Local Rehab Agencies to participate in the program. CLICK HERE for MassHousing memo (PDF)

Owner-occupant families with children residing in the property under the age of six, or under court order to delead their homes, will continue to be able to access 0% “deferred loans”, with repayment not due until the home is sold, transferred or refinanced.  One big change is that all income-eligible owner occupants will now also be able to access 0% deferred loans, instead of loans at 2% requiring regular repayment.  This preventative approach will result in the deleading of units that will be the future homes of families with children.  There are other helpful changes, that will lower upfront payments required of borrowers and broaden the lenders and local agencies participating in the program.

MACDC and its Members, along with our allies at CHAPA, MAHA, and the MA Public Health Association played a crucial role in advocating for changes.  We appreciate that MassHousing, the MA Department of Housing and Community Development, and the MA Department of Public Health were open and receptive to our recommendations.  Because of this, a good program is now even better, which will result in more homes becoming lead free and fewer children becoming lead poisoned.   Despite substantial gains made over 45 years of public health intervention, lead exposure remains a significant health risk for children in Massachusetts. Recent evidence suggests that for children there is no safe level of exposure to lead and that exposure to relatively low levels can result in irreversible health effects.  Fewer homes with lead means fewer sick children, plain and simple.

The enhancements to the Get the Lead Out Program will be effective for all loans reserved by MassHousing on or after October 25, 2016.  The next step will be for MassHousing to hold 5 Regional informational sessions across the state.  The locations will be North Shore, South Shore, Boston, Central/Worcester and Western MA. MACDC will work with MassHousing to plan and put the word out about these upcoming sessions.

Should you have any questions, please contact Deanna Ramsden at MassHousing at 617-854-1822 or dramsden@masshousing.com for assistance.

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9 MACDC Members Rental Round Award Recipients

August 17th, 2016 by Don Bianchi

 

On August 15, Governor Baker and State officials announced the award of over $59 million in subsidy funding as well as state and federal housing tax credits that will generate more than $210 million in subsidized private equity.  When completed, these 26 projects will create or preserve 1,420 units, including 1,334 affordable units, with 267 of these affordable units reserved for households earning less than 30% of area median income.

MACDC Members were well represented among the awardees, with 9 receiving awards, resulting in the creation or preservation of 334 affordable units:

  • East Boston CDC will create 32 affordable newly constructed units in East Boston at Paris Village.
  • Harborlight Community Partners will rehabilitate 26 affordable units for formerly homeless individuals in Salem at Boston Street Crossing.
  • Hilltown CDC will newly construct Goshen Senior Housing, 10 affordable units in Goshen’s town center.
  • Home City Housing will rehabilitate 61 affordable units at E. Henry Twiggs Phase II, a scattered-site preservation project in Springfield.
  • Housing Assistance Corporation (in collaboration with Preservation of Affordable Housing) will construct Canal Bluffs Phase III in Bourne, creating 44 units of townhouse-style affordable housing.
  • Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly will develop 61 affordable senior housing units at 132 Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton.
  • Oak Hill CDC will rehabilitate and preserve 24 affordable units as part of the Union Hill Rental Housing Initiative II in Worcester.
  • Southwest Boston CDC will develop 27 affordable units at The Residences at Fairmount Station, a new transit-oriented housing project in Hyde Park.
  • Urban Edge will construct Walker Park Apartments in Roxbury, creating 49 affordable units.

While the projects funded will meet critical housing needs in communities across the Commonwealth, another 37 projects for which sponsors submitted applications were not awarded funding in this rental round, largely due to a lack of available funding.  MACDC will continue to advocate for more resources that will enable the Commonwealth to award funding to more projects in future rounds.  Furthermore, as only 2 of the 26 projects were community-scale projects (projects of fewer than 20 units), the need for a community-scale housing program, targeted to these smaller projects, is evident.  DHCD has indicated its intention to hold such a round in early calendar year 2017.  MACDC and its Members eagerly await the launch of this community-scale housing program.

 

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MACDC Members Join the Attorney General to Fight for Communities

May 26th, 2016 by Don Bianchi

Almost 50 people, representing more than 20 MACDC Member organizations, joined Attorney General Maura Healey and members of her senior staff in Worcester on May 20, to discuss how to collaborate on tackling some of the most serious housing problems facing our communities.

The welcoming remarks from the Attorney General, who noted that her office strives to be “The People’s Law Firm”, were inspiring.  She commended the “righteous work” done by CDCs, and noted the importance of work that takes care of us all.  After other senior officials from the AG’s office (AGO) gave an overview of the AG’s initiatives (AGO 101!), we got down to the morning’s hard work- breaking into smaller groups, co-led by AGO staff and CDC leaders, to discuss three topics: foreclosure prevention, abandoned and distressed properties, and fair access to housing.

Foreclosure Prevention:

Foreclosure counselors noted that foreclosures are still prevalent, despite a common perception that the crisis is over.  Some people with prior mortgage modifications are in trouble again due to unemployment or other economic problems, and counselors note that some loan servicers are not responding adequately to their efforts to help homeowners in trouble.  There is a concern that many struggling homeowners are not reaching out to counselors who can help them, matched by a concern that if more people reached out to counseling agencies, the agencies may not have the staff capacity, or financial resources, to meet everyone’s needs.  Counselors indicated they would like to work more closely with the Attorney General’s office, and AGO staff said that they are available to assist and to intervene with servicers who are not being responsive.  All agreed that resuming monthly conference calls with the AGO would be helpful.

Distressed Properties:

Representatives from the AG’s Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI) described two programs they administer.  AHI, which was formed in 2008, offers loans and grants to communities that address abandoned properties through Receivership, whereby a Court-appointed receiver can assume management of distressed properties, conduct repairs, and place a lien on the property to cover the costs.  More recently, the AGO started a Strategic Demolition Fund, which has provided $125,000 to each of four agencies statewide to make funding available to communities to help with demolition of properties that are bringing down neighborhoods.  Participants also noted the importance of collaborating on identifying the best strategies for addressing distressed properties.

Fair Access to Housing:

CDC leaders and AGO staff discussed the many obstacles to building affordable housing in suburban towns, including low density zoning, lack of infrastructure, unreasonable water and sewage requirements, changing political leadership and abutter lawsuits.  Participants agreed that the AGO could be helpful in educating municipal leaders about their responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act as a way to discourage the most egregious practices. There was also a brief discussion about the common practice among property insurance companies in Massachusetts of charging higher premiums for properties with Section 8 tenants – or denying coverage all together.  AGO staff expressed concern about this practice and MACDC agreed to provide them with more information.

After the breakout sessions, participants reconvened as a group to share what was discussed.  The AGO and MACDC are planning how to follow up on the issues identified on May 20.  Together, a community-minded Attorney General and community-based development organizations make a powerful team for tackling community problems.

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Massachusetts Community & Banking Council Releases New Report "CRA for Mortgage Lenders in Massachusetts, 2008-2015"

May 25th, 2016 by Don Bianchi

A new report released by the Massachusetts Community & Banking Council (MCBC, a coalition of community-based organizations and financial institutions), “CRA for Mortgage Lenders in Massachusetts, 2008-2015” highlights that community reinvestment regulation seems to have had a positive impact on the relative performance of Licensed Mortgage Lenders (LMLs) in meeting the needs of traditionally underserved borrowers and neighborhoods.  In the first report of its kind, MCBC provides information on the state law passed in 2007, which mirrors existing federal and state CRA requirements over depository institutions and calls for lenders to meet the credit needs of low- and moderate-income borrowers and geographies when originating residential loans or acquiring mortgage portfolios in the Commonwealth.

MCBC issued a press release on the issuance of the report:  http://mcbc.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CRA-for-Mortgage-Lenders-in-Massachusetts-2008-2015-Press-Release-5.17.16.pdf  The full report can be accessed at http://mcbc.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/CRA-for-Mortgage-Lenders-in-MA-2008-2015-Final.pdf

The Report and News Release are also available on MCBC’s website at http://mcbc.info/publications/mortgage-lending/.

 If you have any questions or want more information on MCBC or the report, please contact Dana LeWinter, MCBC Executive Director, at (800) 982-8268 or via e-mail at dlewinter@mcbc.info.

MACDC is pleased that this law, passed in response to the foreclosure crisis as a result of the advocacy of MACDC and other organizations, has had such a positive impact.

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MA Division of Banks Awards $1.3 Million for Foreclosure Prevention Counseling and Homebuyer Education

May 17th, 2016 by Don Bianchi

The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s Division of Banks (DOB) announced recently that it has awarded $1.3 Million in grants to 11 regional foreclosure prevention centers and 8 individual first-time homeownership education centers across Massachusetts.  For a list of the grantees and the awards, see the Office of Consumer Affairs website.

The awards are made under Chapter 206 of the Acts of 2007, a law enacted as the foreclosure crisis was gaining steam, with MACDC and its Members instrumental in drafting and passing the legislation. Among other things, it regulates non-bank mortgage lenders for the first time, and uses the licensing fees from mortgage originators to fund the foreclosure prevention counseling and homeownership education awards.  Over the past three years, DOB has provided more than $4 Million for foreclosure prevention counseling and homebuyer education.

Thirteen of the 19 awards were made to MACDC Members or to coalitions including MACDC Members. In fact, over a five year period ending in December, 2015, MACDC Members have helped close to 6,700 households facing foreclosure secure a loan modification or other positive outcome.

Unfortunately, foreclosures continue unabated.  Foreclosure petitions in the Bay State, the first step in the foreclosure process, continued to climb, according to a report from The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman.  In the first three months of 2016, lenders filed 3,367 petitions to foreclose statewide, a 30% increase from the 2,594 petitions filed in the first three months of 2015. During the same time period, completed foreclosures increased by 60% from the first three months of 2015.

MACDC will continue to support our Members, as they strive to help current homeowners preserve their homes and provide future homeowners with the tools for enjoying sustainable homeownership.  MACDC is currently advocating with the Legislature to increase in the amount of revenue from mortgage originator fees the DOB is allowed to retain, so DOB can increase the awards to fully fund the counseling agencies at $2 million in 2017. This would enable DOB to provide the funding level originally authorized in the 2007 legislation.

For more information on this, please contact Don Bianchi at donb@macdc.org.

 

 

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The Foreclosure Crisis in Massachusetts is Not History

January 15th, 2016 by Don Bianchi

The foreclosure crisis has receded from the headlines.  But any notion that foreclosure is not a serious problem anymore would be news to nonprofit foreclosure prevention counselors on the front lines.

At a gathering on September 28, convened by MACDC and CHAPA, counselors from 13 nonprofit organizations immersed in foreclosure prevention spoke about the issues they encounter, the changing nature of the foreclosure crisis, and challenges going forward.  They spoke about lenders being aggressive in setting auction dates yet unresponsive to borrower requests for loan modifications. They noted that the funding that has sustained foreclosure prevention counseling is drying up.  They fear the impact on their neighborhoods of lenders initiating foreclosure while neglecting to maintain those properties once the foreclosure process has been initiated.

The data on foreclosures underscore the persistent nature of the problem.  A September article by The Warren Group, publishers of Banker & Tradesman, noted that foreclosure petitions in the Bay State rose in July, increasing 49 percent compared with July 2014.  This marked the 17th consecutive month of increases in petition filings. In the first seven months of the year, there were 6,360 petitions filed in Massachusetts, a 60 percent increase from last year's mark through July. Petitions are the first step in the foreclosure process, when banks petition the state courts for the right to foreclose.

Too often, loan servicers are taking steps that tend to exacerbate problems rather than remedy them.  Some are not complying with required standards when borrowers apply for loan modifications.  Many are reluctant to negotiate forgiveness of past due amounts, or to consider principal reductions, when borrowers encounter hardships.  Some are ignoring borrower authorizations of foreclosure counselors to negotiate on their behalf.

Counseling agencies are struggling to serve their clients with diminishing resources to fund their work.  Many continue to rely on annual grants from the MA Division of Banks through a program, authorized by legislation from 2007 that permits the Division to collect fees from licensed mortgage originators, retain up to $5 million of these fees, and use up to $2 million of the retained revenue to make grants for foreclosure prevention counseling and homebuyer education.  Earlier this year, through the State budget, the Legislature authorized the Division to retain $2.35 million from these fees, and the Division in 2015 made $1.3 million available in grants. The Request for Proposals for 2016 grants has recently been issued by the Division.

MACDC advocated for this program because we knew that a long-term, stable source of dedicated revenue would be necessary to address the foreclosure crisis.  Eight years later, with the number of foreclosures stubbornly high, the wisdom of the Legislature’s decision is evident. According to a 2015 report issued by the Division of Banks, in calendar year 2014, the 21 agencies who received awards served almost 5,300 clients.  Unfortunately, other funds that have historically supported this work have been reduced or eliminated, including funds from the Community Based Home Corps Program (funded by the MA Attorney General’s Office from prior legal settlements), HUD Counseling grants, and NeighborWorks America’s National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program.

An article by journalist Loren Berlin, published in the November 10 issue of Shelterforce Weekly, addressed the dearth of funding nationwide for foreclosure prevention counseling. She notes, “Across the United States, hundreds of housing counseling agencies are struggling to regroup as elected officials declare the foreclosure crisis resolved and public funds to support mortgage default counseling services evaporate. The NFMC received $180 million in Congressional appropriations in 2007; it got roughly $50 million this year. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget for housing counseling services, which funds a variety of counseling services, including foreclosure prevention,  was just $47 million this year, down from $87.5 million in 2010. Additionally, many states have reduced or ended their support for default counseling, and the majority of funds from the 2012 national mortgage settlement have been depleted. This loss of government support is compounded by a similar decrease in funds from national foundations and large financial institutions.”

In Massachusetts, MACDC is working with CHAPA to identify and advocate for resources to fill this growing void. At the same time, we need to continue to support the work of the nonprofit counseling agencies involved in homebuyer education and financial literacy, so we don’t see a repeat cycle of foreclosures in the future.

Research has demonstrated the link between pre-purchase homebuyer education and more sustainable homeownership.  An analysis commissioned by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in 2014 affirmed the benefits of pre-purchase counseling: in addition to improving homebuyers’ financial creditworthiness as they prepared to qualify for a home mortgage, individuals who received one-on-one counseling achieved better outcomes after purchase in terms of credit score, total debt, and payment delinquency than those who did not receive such counseling.

A working paper commissioned by national mortgage lender Freddie Mac in 2013 concluded that pre-purchase homeownership counseling reduced 90-day delinquency rates by 29% for first-time homebuyers taking out fixed-rate loans in owner-occupied one-unit properties under Freddie Mac’s affordable lending programs.

MACDC believes the path forward is clear.  The Massachusetts state legislature can take a major step forward by providing funding for foreclosure prevention counseling and for first-time homebuyer education to replace what has been lost; one way would be authorize the MA Division of Banks to retain a higher amount of revenue from licensing fees so the Division can increase its awards.  With this one step, we can help homeowners stay in their homes, protect neighborhoods from the negative impacts of foreclosure, and help today’s homebuyers to become tomorrow’s successful homeowners.

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