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Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Massachusetts Municipal Association - 2010 - Kenneth E. Pickard Municipal Innovation Award

Summary

Town leaders in Dedham, Massachusetts, reached out to local clergy members to help individuals struggling with foreclosures. The town, the clergy, and other community organizations collaborated to provide local residents with counseling on foreclosure prevention or debt reduction and other financial advice.

Description

In the fall of 2008, when Dedham officials learned of a surprising number of foreclosures in their community – 14 percent of all mortgages in Dedham were regarded as “at risk” – they wanted to move quickly to assist people who were in danger of losing their homes.

“The biggest challenge we faced was to try to reach people,” said Town Administrator William Keegan. “A lot of people are very private about their income. … [But] most banks would rather have the person come in in the early stages of the situation, so they can take some proactive steps to mitigate the impact.”

Town leaders decided to involve local clergy – individuals who already had the trust of members of their congregations – in their efforts to help people save their homes.

The approach arose from conversations that Selectman James MacDonald had with the Rev. Steve Josoma, his pastor at St. Susanna Parish. Josoma spread the word among other Dedham clergy, and Dedham officials helped to coordinate an informational session for homeowners at risk that took place at St. Susanna’s late that November.

Keegan said that while the event launching the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors Program” drew a modest turnout, Town Hall soon thereafter began receiving many more phone calls and visits from people seeking help. One reason, Keegan said, was the media attention the event attracted. But he also credited members of the clergy, whom he described as “the best advertising in the world.”

The key element in the program, made possible by the participation of banks, nonprofits and other organizations, is a folder bundling a wide array of potential forms of assistance. An 18-page document, “Understanding, Avoiding and Minimizing the Impact of Foreclosure,” was prepared by a local law office. The packet also includes a glossary of mortgage-related terms; “Tips for Talking to Your Lender”; descriptions of energy rebate and fuel-assistance programs; a guide to regional employment and training resources; and a brochure outlining the rights of tenants living in foreclosed-upon buildings.

“There were so many things we could point them to,” Keegan said.

In some cases, Accion USA, a nonprofit that specializes in making very small loans to people or businesses that might not otherwise qualify for financing, was able to provide short-term loans that enabled homeowners to buy time with their mortgage holders.

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Tags: Collaboration/Intergovernmental Cooperation, Economic and Community Development





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