A year ago, a wave of foreclosures seemed imminent. People were losing jobs in the Berkshires as the economy turned around. A local housing official has warned that a foreclosure “tsunami” could flatten homeowners on financial brink.
Remarkably, this did not happen, mainly because of government-imposed forbearance orders still in effect. But these protections do not cancel the debt.
“The principle will have to be paid for at some point,” said Jim Hamilton, housing counselor certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development with the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority. “We expected last year to see more foreclosures at this point.”
But money problems persist. More than 10 million homeowners in the United States are behind on their mortgages, according to the White House. Now, as borrowers and lenders grapple with months of missed payments, a series of foreclosure actions may finally be looming, according to Hamilton and Brad Gordon, the authority’s executive director.
Gordon says his non-profit agency faces “an extremely difficult environment.”
Hamilton says borrowers may be required to double their payments in some cases.
“It can be very difficult,” Hamilton said.
Today, with federal foreclosure protections due to expire on June 30, Hamilton says his workload is increasing. A local bank, Hamilton said, has stepped up its referral of distressed borrowers; instead of working with three borrowers from the bank, he advises nine.
“He has grown a lot. And it’s more complex, ”Hamilton said of the current cases.
In interviews last April, Gordon and others at the agency said they had reorganized themselves to help struggling mortgage borrowers, as well as tenants. In the months that followed, Berkshire County’s unemployment rate would drop from low to single digits at 17.8% in June, then drop to 10.9% in August, according to an analysis by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
A year ago, Gordon and Hamilton urged homeowners struggling to pay off their mortgages to stay in close contact with their lenders. It is still their message.
Hamilton said his job as a housing counselor is to help borrowers get on top of their financial challenges. To reach him, call 413-238-1828 or email him at [email protected]
In its work, the authority helps distressed borrowers in Berkshire County negotiate with local, regional and national lenders. Along the way, Hamilton may seek to modify loan repayment amounts to make them more manageable, depending on client needs. Hamilton can also connect borrowers with financial assistance that has been made available throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are trying to muster as much financial support as we need for the household,” he said.
Since February 16 the White House has extended the foreclosure moratorium for homeowners until June 30. The Biden administration also granted up to six months of additional mortgage forbearance to people who had signed up to the program before last June.