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Foreclosure workshop aims to aid distressed homeowners

Not so long ago, Harold Duffield was teetering on the verge of home foreclosure.

Recently retired and stuck with ballooning medical bills, the Woodbury man said he struggled to balance hospital co-pays, mortgage payments and being able to put food on the table.

"That's what put me into the tight spot," Duffield said.

Under threat of mortgage foreclosure by his bank, he was steered toward a Washington County program that he said was able to help him keep his house and pay smaller monthly mortgage payments.

He credits the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority's foreclosure counseling services for the assistance.

Officials at the county HRA say they wish more people took the step Duffield did.

"People shouldn't feel ashamed or embarrassed about calling," said Nicola Viana, home ownership specialist for Washington County HRA.

Agency leaders say they believe a series of workshops held at non-threatening county library locations is helping to strip away some of those concerns. Those efforts continue Thursday, when the agency holds a foreclosure counseling and informational workshop from 6 to 7 p.m. at R.H. Stafford Public Library in Woodbury.



Barbara Dacy, Washington County HRA's executive director, recommended in 2008 the Washington County Board implement a foreclosure prevention program in the wake of burgeoning sheriff's sales occurring in the county. Prior to 2008, foreclosure prevention was handled by an outside agency, she said.

"It made perfect sense with the volume of foreclosures occurring for the Washington County HRA to take this on," Dacy said.

Since the program went into effect, the Washington County HRA has added three full-time counselors and counseled more than 2,100 households, she said.

Dacy said the mission is not just helping residents find ways to stay in their homes - it's about providing stability to communities.

"When families are displaced or homes become vacant ... it has a negative impact on communities," she said.

The program - open to anyone who may be worried about keeping up on mortgage payments - offers county residents information, and if necessary, options.

Dacy urged community members worried about foreclosure issues not to wait until threatening letters arrive in their mailboxes before they seek help.

"Be proactive instead of reactive," she said.

Thursday's workshop includes a 45-minute presentation summarizing the foreclosure process followed by an opportunity for participants to meet one-on-one with county foreclosure prevention counselors.

Viana noted that the HRA's services are free, compared to other businesses that may charge up to $5,000 for foreclosure prevention assistance.

"You shouldn't have to pay for this service," she said.

Dacy said more than 60 percent of households that have entered the counseling have avoided foreclosure. Among Woodbury residents, about 50 percent have been able to avert foreclosure, according to county HRA data.

Meanwhile, foreclosures continue to add up in Woodbury, said city Housing Specialist Karl Batalden.

Despite an overall decrease between 2009 and 2010, homestead foreclosures continued to grow over that period, city figures show.

"That trend is, in fact, upward," Batalden said.

He said that's offset by encouraging news that commercial foreclosures in Woodbury are on the decline.

"Our local economic engines are weathering the storm," he said.

The number of residential homestead foreclosures increased from 200 in 2009 to 210 last year. Batalden said current residential foreclosures are mostly no longer due to predatory lending practices, but rather an outgrowth of the job market.

"Until the job market dramatically improves, we're going to continue seeing foreclosures," he said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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