Workshop offers chance to work against foreclosure

By Connie Paige
Globe Correspondent / March 29, 2009
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A government-sponsored workshop in Lowell this Thursday will offer a chance for homeowners facing foreclosure to work out new terms for their mortgages and possibly keep the roof over their heads.

The one-day session is designed to bring together borrowers and a variety of bankers and lenders to try to restructure mortgages, with reduced interest rates, more affordable payments, or other arrangements, to help save some of the many homes in this area that are on the brink of foreclosure. Other workshops are being scheduled elsewhere in the state.

"We need opportunities to bring homeowners face to face with their mortgage lenders," said Sandra Clarke, chief of staff for the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, one of the event's sponsors. "What we've heard is that it's very difficult to get through to the lenders and have a conversation and work through a meaningful resolution. We mean to put them together in the same room."

The high foreclosure rates and the glut of homeowners close to foreclosure in some communities prompted the consumer affairs agency to stage the workshop. The idea is to help those who have the income and other qualifications to pay a mortgage, but have not been able to keep up with the terms of their current one.

"I think anything that helps the economy and people stay in their homes and get things back on an even keel makes sense," said Ronald C. Morrison, a realtor who owns ERA Morrison, with offices in Acton, Ayer, Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, and Lowell.

Lowell Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke said halting foreclosures would also help the city. He said areas with high rates or concentrations of foreclosures tend to bring down neighborhoods, as other properties lose value. "The best thing possible is for residents to stay in their homes," Baacke said.

Many area homeowners, particularly in Lawrence and Lowell, already have had homes taken away.

From January 2008 to January 2009, for example, lenders in Lowell foreclosed on 29 properties, according to the latest report from the Warren Group, real estate specialists that track housing trends. During the same 12-month period, Lawrence had 28 foreclosures, the report says. That compares with none in Groton, Pepperell, and Tewksbury; one in Reading and Westford; three in Andover, Ayer, Chelmsford, North Reading, Tewksbury, and Woburn; four in North Andover; and eight in Dracut.

In that same time period, those same 15 communities had a total 146 properties with petitions for foreclosure filed by lenders in court - the first step toward takeover - with Lawrence's numbering 51 and Lowell's, 39, the Warren Group report says.

The Lowell workshop - jointly sponsored by the state consumer affairs office, the city of Lowell, and a nonprofit group called Coalition for a Better Acre - is the first of several in the state, Clarke said. Another will be held on Friday in Brockton. Others have yet to be scheduled, she said.

As of last week, nine companies had signed up to be represented at the Lowell workshop, including American Home Mortgage, Bank of America (which will handle LaSalle bank clients), Countrywide, HSBC Mortgage Services, JP Morgan/Chase (which will handle EMC Mortgage Corp. and Washington Mutual bank clients), Indy Mac, and Wells Fargo.

Those with mortgages from other lenders are also invited to participate, Clarke said. Representatives from Massachusetts Legal Services will advise them and help with some other financial problems, such as bankruptcy.

Clarke said the banks and mortgage companies have mailed notices to thousands of customers living within at least a 25-mile radius informing them of the workshop. She said she expects participation by homeowners from throughout the Merrimack Valley and possibly southern New Hampshire who have been late on mortgage payments or have financial difficulties that might make it impossible for them to keep up with the payments in the future.

Clarke said the consumer affairs office held six workshops last year in various cities around the state. In all, they drew about 1,400 people. She said she did not have a count on how many homeowners were able to make arrangements with the lenders and keep their homes.

Suzanne Frechette, interim executive director for the Coalition for a Better Acre, said a similar workshop held last year in Lawrence was very successful. "It's just a very efficient way to do it, to have everybody in one place," she said.

Frechette said homeowners attending the Lowell workshop should bring all their related documentation with them, including personal identification, pay stubs, and information relating to their bank accounts, mortgage, and other debt.

The April 2 workshop will take place at the Doubletree Hotel, 50 Warren St., Lowell, from 2 to 8 p.m. Registration closes at 7 p.m. that day.

Connie Paige can be reached at For more information on the event and foreclosures, visit the state consumer affairs website at, or call the Coalition for a Better Acre at 978-452-7523.

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