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Column

Foreclosure coming? Seminar aims to help

By Andrew Skerritt, Times Columnist
Published February 15, 2008


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It's a portrait of despair: 668 more home foreclosures in Pasco County in January. After the record year in 2007, the bleeding hasn't stopped.

Unlike Hernando and some other counties where most of the foreclosures involve investors who gambled and lost, more than half of the foreclosed houses in Pasco are homestead properties and new homes.

New Port Richey was the hardest hit, followed by Wesley Chapel, Port Richey and Land O'Lakes, according to the county's community development director, George Romagnoli, who conducted the foreclosure study.

Many of those hurt were low-income families who bought homes they thought they could afford. Unfortunately, too many of these financially unsophisticated folks got talked into signing up for mortgages with complicated rules they didn't always understand. Now they're about lose everything.

And the proposals coming out of Washington won't solve their problems. One option is to give an extra 30 days to homeowners who are already more than three months behind on their mortgage. Right.

Fortunately, help is available much closer to home. That message will be delivered during a free foreclosure seminar at the Richey Suncoast Theatre on Saturday. Folks who are in foreclosure or sense they may be heading down that financially ruinous path don't have to panic.

"We want to be more aggressive and let people know we can help," Romagnoli said. "We have helped people get out of foreclosure."

The idea for the half-day conference emerged after employees at Connections job counseling service in New Port Richey witnessed men and women desperately trying to find work so they could hold on to their homes.

"We all know someone who is affected by it," said Judy Tilton of Connections. "We see the houses on every street that are abandoned or vacant."

With the foreclosure crisis dominating the news, it wasn't hard to find local partners, including U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and the United Way.

Conference organizers acknowledge that some people are beyond help. If you bought a $400,000 house when you earned six figures, but are trying to survive on $15 an hour, the best option would be to sell that dream house before you lose it.

But many others can benefit from an array of federal, state and county foreclosure prevention programs. The trouble is that when people are struggling financially, they often don't answer their phone when lenders call, they don't read their mail and they don't reach out for help until it's too late.

That's the wrong approach.

"They have to address it head-on," Tilton said.

Conference organizers promise to show how.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at askerritt@sptimes.com 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.

IF YOU GO

Foreclosure prevention seminar

When: 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey

[Last modified February 14, 2008, 20:18:04]


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