Paul López served on Denver City Council during the Great Recession, when the housing market swiftly collapsed. He recalls foreclosures coming like a thief in the night and devastating many lives, largely in minority and lower-income neighborhoods. The recovery lasted years, and the memories linger.
Today López is Denver's elected clerk and recorder and also the city's public trustee. In order to avoid having the same kind of economic casualties during the COVID pandemic, he assembled a team to help those threatened with foreclosure before the federal pandemic moratoriums are lifted, pulling representatives from not only his office, but the Denver Housing Authority and the Denver Office of Financial Empowerment and Protection.
“It’s a proactive approach,” says López, “and more of a community-organizing approach to make sure people have access to basic information that may be the only thing that’s keeping them from losing their home. Our
goal is to make sure we are providing the best information to folks who may have never gone through the foreclosure process and don’t know where to begin."
The latest Housing and Urban Development moratorium on mortgage payment forbearance has been extended until June 30. (The end of the federal moratorium on evictions remains March 31.)
John Davies, the chief deputy public trustee for Denver, is prepared to see state and federal emergency orders relax as vaccinations continue. “When that happens, there is sort of a backlog of foreclosures that I expect to come through, so I do expect to see quite a few foreclosures in 2021, maybe second quarter, I’m guessing,” he says.
Current foreclosure data shows that Denver County is at an all-time low. “Prior to the moratoriums going into place, we were averaging fifty to sixty foreclosures a month," Davies says. "Once the moratoriums started, we were down to five or ten."
Financial hardships are rarely limited to one area; if people are struggling to pay their mortgages, then it is likely they are strained in other ways, too. But the public trustee's office is limited in how it can help; for example, it cannot offer advice at the risk of appearing partial. So in order to keep foreclosure numbers low, López partnered with agencies that can help in ways his office can't.
"That’s why we want to bring in someone like DHA and OFEP,” he says. “We know that those things exist, so we want to make sure we’re teaming up with the appropriate agencies with common visions and goals.”
Through the partnership, people facing the threat of foreclosure will have access to legal services, financial coaching and assistance in perhaps finding a new home, as well as other services. They'll also be able to attend free, virtual town-hall meetings that will provide more information.
The next town hall, which will focus on resources available to local homeowners, will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 9, on Zoom; find out more here. There will also be sessions in Vietnamese and Spanish; for more information, see the Denver Clerk and Recorder's web page.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect the latest extension of the federal mortgage moratorium for certain types of loans, and to correct the spelling of John Davies's name. Our apologies for the error.
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