Homeowners on the brink look to federal program as last hope

Lisette Dewitt * is trying to stay strong, but it’s hard. The single mother is facing foreclosure in less than a week, and could lose her Virginia townhouse.

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Lisette Dewitt * is trying to stay strong, but it’s hard.

The single mother is facing foreclosure in less than a week, and could lose her Virginia townhouse.

Describing her three-year struggle to save the place she worked so hard to purchase, the tears begin to fall.

“Luckily I have a job, but my title changed and my salary was reduced,” says the 45-year-old, who works in the hospitality industry.

She begins to cry softly. “I’m trying to keep my faith.”

Dewitt joined nearly 600 people in Upper Marlboro, Maryland Wednesday for an event aimed at struggling homeowners; part of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to address the nation’s mortgage crisis.

The session was hosted by the U.S. Treasury department and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in partnership with the HOPE NOW Alliance, an industry-created group of mortgage servicers, investors, non-profit counselors, and others, formed to assist homeowners.

“About 41,000 letters were mailed to homeowners in the area who missed a payment,” said Andrea Risotto, a spokeswoman for the Treasury department. “Unfortunately, we still see too many homeowners who delay reaching out for help because they may feel ashamed, afraid or unsure where to turn.”

The Obama administration reports that since June 2009, officials have hosted 75 sessions in 51 cities across the country.

The events have brought together mortgage servicers, HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, non-profit, government and other stakeholders to give homeowners resource information and critical help.

Many of the nation’s largest mortgage companies have been invited, including Bank of America, CitiMortgage, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, JP Morgan Chase, PNC, SunTrust and Wells Fargo, among others.

“We’re one of four major lenders who have been participating in outreach,” said Roger Braggs, vice president for National Mortgage Outreach at Bank of America. “We have been doing this in all 50 states. We continue to focus on the hardest-hit markets.”

Bank of America is of the country’s largest mortgage servicers, reportedly with a $1.8 trillion portfolio and nearly $12 million in customer loans.

Braggs says company representatives have been seeing customers “coming in past due and in the delinquent phase—every case is different.”

While not everyone will get the outcome they seek, he believes the company’s efforts are having an impact. “We have helped prevent more than 1.4 million foreclosures. … As long as we see a need with our customers, we will continue to engage them.”

Yesterday, Dewitt and other homeowners were able to sit down face to face with representatives from various mortgage companies and HUD-approved housing counselors, to discuss options to avoid foreclosure.

Dewitt says her ordeal began in 2009, after her Fortune 500 employer downsized a third of its staff and her near six-figure salary was cut almost in half.

“It made a huge dent.”

Dewitt has continued to work and took in roommates for a time, trying to make ends meet. Along the way, she has reached out to her lender, seeking to modify the mortgage payments.

Yet despite adjustments, the note—initially about $1,700 a month–is now higher than before, due to interest and penalties.

Dewitt has managed to stave off the foreclosure process before—”there was a sticker on my door,”—but that possibility looms again this month.

“I have worked hard all my life,” she says. “Most people want to keep their homes. I’ve had to tell my daughter the truth that we may have to move.”