published Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Help on homefront

Jan Marshall talks in the living room of her Hixson home about how she was helped by CNE's Hardest Hit Fund, a program that tries to prevent foreclosures. 
Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Jan Marshall talks in the living room of her Hixson home about how she was helped by CNE's Hardest Hit Fund, a program that tries to prevent foreclosures. Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Where to get help

The Hardest Hit Funds program is available to people who have been unemployed or suffered a major income loss in the past couple of years and are facing foreclosure.

• In Tennessee, applications and questions may be directed to CNE’s foreclosure hot line at 664-HOME (4663).

• In Georgia, people may apply for the Hardest Hit Funds on the web at www.homesafegeorgia.com.


By the numbers

441 - Number of property foreclosures in the first five months of 2011 in Hamilton County

603 - Number of property foreclosures in the first five months of 2010 in Hamilton County

441 - Number of Chattanoogans who have sought CNE assistance for foreclosure prevention so far in 2011

330 - Number of Chattanoogans who sought CNE assistance for foreclosure prevention in all of 2010

Sources: Hamilton County Register of Deeds, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises

Jan Marshall lost her mother two years ago, her job last year and nearly her home this year.

But a new federal program is helping the 53-year-old homeowner keep her Forest Plaza house and could help nearly 7,000 other disabled or unemployed homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Marshall, whose mother died of cancer in 2009, was diagnosed with her own cancer during spring break from her job at Girls Preparatory School last year. While undergoing chemotherapy to fight a rare type of colon cancer last summer, Marshall had to give up her job and most of her savings until her disability checks began coming in six months later.

“I’ve always worked and paid my bills, but with all the medical bills and no money coming in, it was overwhelming,” Marshall recalled Thursday. “I was truly afraid I was going to lose my house.”

In January, with delinquent notices coming from her mortgage holder, Bank of America, Marshall called Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises to see if the agency could help. Much to her surprise, CNE’s Jeremy Fitzsimmons called back within 10 minutes and started a process to make Marshall one of the first Tennesseans to participate in the Hardest Hit Fund designed to help homeowners who have been unemployed or suffered a major income cut.

Under the federal program, Marshall will get up to $15,000 to pay nearly $7,200 in deliquent payments and penalties and help her make payments over the next year while she and CNE negotiate a new mortgage.

“This was a real godsend, and I can’t say enough about how helpful CNE has been for me,” Marshall said.

As a former legal secretary and administrative assistant, Marshall took copious notes filling up a legal pad last year while negotiating with 14 mortgage managers for Bank of America, which held the mortgage on her three-bedroom home.

“I managed to continue to pay a little every month toward my mortgage, but it was a real run-around until I went to CNE,” she said.

Fitzsimmons, a former banker who manages CNE’s homeownership program, is passionate about fighting off foreclosures for those hurt by the recession or other factors beyond their control.

In less than three months since the Hardest Hit Fund was opened across Tennessee, CNE has helped 21 local homeowners secure a total of $315,000 to avoid losing their homes. Of the first 38 loans made across Tennessee under the new program, CNE has made 15 — the highest level of any of the 18 agencies participating in the Hardest Hit Fund in Tennessee.

“We’ve already been able to stop the equivalent of a whole neighborhood from foreclosure, and we’re hoping to do a whole lot more,” Fitzsimmons said.

Statewide, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency has been allocated more than $217 million of federal funds to help distressed homeowners pay their mortgages for up to a year while they get back on their feet.

“We’ve tried to make our program as streamlined and simple as possible to get the participation of mortgage servicing companies and to best serve those needing these funds,” THDA Executive Director Ted Fellman said last week during the THDA’s board meeting in Chattanooga.

CNE President David Johnson said the assistance program is ideally timed for Chattanooga.

“This is not for deadbeats who weren’t paying their mortgages in the past,” he said. “This is a great way to help people who have lost their jobs — or taken a huge cut in pay — to get current with their house payments and get back on their feet while we transition into a better economy,” he said.

With more jobs coming to Chattanooga from Amazon, Volkswagen, Wacker Chemical and Alstom Power, among others, Johnson said the federal program will help bridge the income gap for many financially distressed home-owners.

Fitzsimmons said the federal aid also is encouraging others to come to CNE for foreclosure prevention aid from other initiatives, including credit counseling, refinancing assistance or simply help with negotiating relief from mortgage lenders.

“This is our business and what we love doing,” he said.

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