Garry Anthony Johnson is economic development chairman for the New York State Conference National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which recently launched a partnership with mortgage servicer Ocwen Financial Corp. to help homeowners who are struggling with their mortgages. MortgageOrb recently interviewed Johnson to find out more about the partnership, as well as the challenges that African American and other minority families face in this current housing market.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing African American families today in terms of housing?
Johnson: The black community, along with most minorities, experiences disproportionately high levels of unemployment, poverty and foreclosures, and of these, homeownership is arguably the biggest challenge it faces today. Many families are still feeling the effects of the 2008 housing crisis and have effectively been barred from the wealth-building power of homeownership. In fact, according to RealtyTrac's July 2015 report, the state's foreclosure rate is currently around 7%. What's more, one in every 530 homes in Suffolk County, N.Y., alone will experience foreclosure.
In August, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued a report finding that ‘trends in both new foreclosure filings and the total number of pending foreclosure cases indicate that the problem is far from resolved.’ Specifically, the downstate area outside of New York City has experienced ‘the greatest number of pending foreclosures and has experienced relatively rapid growth in the number of pending foreclosure cases over the past two years.’ We recognize there is still work to be done in our neighborhoods to help families keep the dream of long-lasting homeownership alive.
Q: How is the NAACP working to solve this problem?
Johnson: The NAACP works to improve the economic capacity of African Americans and underserved groups in a variety of ways including financial education, monitoring financial banking practices, and promoting community economic development. Additionally, we have established a fair lending program aimed at responsible mortgage lending principles to encourage transparency and fairness in the processes associated with obtaining quality loans.
Q: Why did the NAACP choose to partner with Ocwen?
Johnson: The NAACP recognized Ocwen as one of the few partners that shares its commitment to helping to decrease these high foreclosure rates in New York and other states facing similar challenges. We're partnering with Ocwen to educate homeowners on loan modification programs, including principal reduction, which can help make homes more affordable. Ocwen's CEO, Ron Faris, and the whole Ocwen team understands that by partnering with respected leaders and organizations within communities throughout the country, we can, together, help struggling homeowners maintain the dream of owning a home.
Q: What do you suggest to homeowners who face the risk of foreclosure?
Johnson: The best thing to do when worried about foreclosure, or if you simply want to become more educated on the home mortgage lending process, is talk to someone who can help. We at the NAACP are committed to helping homeowners through tough times, which is why we have partnered with Ocwen for a series of free homeowner outreach events called ‘Help & Hope for Homeowners.’ We encourage homeowners to bring all of their questions and concerns to these events, where Ocwen Home Retention Agents and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing counselors will be on hand to help struggling borrowers explore potential loan modification options.
Q: What do the NAACP and Ocwen hope to accomplish with these events?
Johnson: Our shared goal is to help all struggling homeowners. Black and minority communities have been hit especially hard as a result of the housing crisis, and we are interested in assisting these families so that they can continue to build wealth and establish strong communities through homeownership. We hope that, through the available education and counseling provided at these events, more borrowers will be able to better afford their home mortgages and feel confident about the longevity of their home.
The next Help & Hope for Homeowners event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Long Island Marriott. Admission and parking are both free. We encourage homeowners in both Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island and the surrounding boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn whose loans are serviced by Ocwen to come to this event.
Both HUD-approved financial counselors and Ocwen Home Retention Agents will be available to meet with homeowners to learn about loan modification programs, including principal reductions that can help make their homes more affordable. For more information, Ocwen homeowners are encouraged to call the NAACP-dedicated hotline at (855) 459-2514 and to take a moment to watch a helpful video.