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KRCC in the news: “Saving the Korean American Home”

By April 23, 2009 No Comments

Saving the Korean American home
A Rescue Fair draws more than 600 Chicago families to negotiate new mortgages, halt foreclosure
BY MARTHA VICKERY
Korean Quarterly, Spring 2009

A recent Home Rescue Fair targeted to Chicago-area Spanish- and Korean speaking minority residents drew an estimated 1400 people, including 103 Korean Americans, according to a report from the Korean
American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC) of Chicago, one of three local organizations which helped to publicize, organize, and run the event and staff it with Korean speakers.

Chloe Seung-Hee Ey event coordinator for the KRCC, said the staff was surprised that the fair, held Saturday, March 14, attracted so many Korean Americans, most of whom had to drive an hour or more to an unfamiliar area for the event. “We were guessing about this problem but had no idea about the extent of it,” she said.

The Home Rescue Fair attendees included those who have not paid their mortgage in at least two months, and others who were in the process of foreclosure, Ey said. A third group came in to see if they could benefit from the Obama Administration’s $75 billion Foreclosure Prevention and Modification Program. Briefings on this plan, in English, Spanish, and Korean, were held throughout the day.

Countrywide/Bank of America, which provided funding for the event, reported that 75 percent of attendees were Latino, 16 percent Korean, and 10 percent African American. The location of the event was a predominantly Latino area. All workshops were filled, and Bank of America’s Jacqueline O’Garrow reported that the event exceeded the attendance goal.

Ey said the participants were first sent to housing counselors who analyzed the person’s financial issues to see if they should see a lender or an attorney. Lenders from Countrywide/Bank of America worked at the event. Many with loans from that institution were able to refinance to a fixed-interestrate loan at the fair. Attorneys were also on hand to help homeowners who came in because of foreclosure. The attorneys discussed various options to halt the foreclosure process, she said.

Some participants were not in financial trouble yet, but were concerned because of a recent layoff. Those people were referred to a counselor to discuss applying for a “forbearance” status, Ey said, so that they could formally freeze their mortgage and wait to pay on it until a date six to nine months after the layoff of the person responsible for the mortgage.

Ey said that in her Korean American community publicity efforts, she avoided the use of the word “foreclosure,” and talked instead about “modification” or “refinancing,” fearing that Korean Americans would not show up if doing so would be associated any kind of financial failure. “I wanted them to be able to say to their neighbors that they were interested in the President’s program, and were just going to go to listen —- something like that,” she said.

Ey said the KRCC staff discovered that some second generation Korean Americans have been harmed by the foreclosure crisis because their first generation parents, hoping for a lower interest rate, negotiated the mortgage under their adult children’s names. This may be because entrepreneurial parents are holding a lot of business debt, or have a poorer credit history for some other reason than their adult children. “Because of a house foreclosure, the credit score of these [adult] children is completely ruined,” she said.

The Fair was held through a collaboration of The Alliance for Stabilizing Our Communities, a coalition which includes the National Urban League (NUL), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD). KRCC was one of the local organizers, along with the Chicago Urban League and the Resurrection Project.
According to the CAPACD, the Alliance will concentrate on 27 communities which have ethnic or multicultural neighborhoods, and which are seeing a rate of foreclosure above the national average.

The Home Rescue Fair is the first of 40 such fairs that will be held at various locations across the country.  In addition to the Home Rescue fairs, the $2.5 million pledged by Bank of America will also provide additional counselors in local markets; training for new and existing counselors; and multi-language outreach materials to educate at-risk borrowers about their options, among other services.

According to a press release from the Alliance, one of the 27 communities to be targeted with this funding is the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

In addition to Chicago, other communities included in this program are: Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona;
Los Angeles, Montebello, Stockton, San Diego, and Oakland, California; Denver, Colorado; Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Florida; Atlanta and Dalton, Georgia; Hawaii; Kansas City, Kansas; St. Louis, Missouri; Boston, Dorchester, and Lowell, Massachusetts; Las Vegas, Nevada, Newark, New Jersey; Jackson Heights and Rochester, New York; Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; Dallas, Texas, and Falls Church and Norfolk, Virginia.

Ey said the Korean community needs a Korean-speaking certified loan counselor. Not one Korean speaker is certified in this area right now in the state of Illinois, she said, so it was necessary to provide translation for the counselor who came to the session.

In the near future, Ey said, KRCC may plan a workshop to invite questions and answers on who will benefit from the Obama foreclosure relief plan. They are also considering an income tax filing workshop, and a session on how to rebuild ruined credit. Ey said she will be attending training in Arizona on household budgeting, which she plans to teach.

The toll free information number nationwide for the Home Rescue program is 866-842-3391. KRCC phone is 773-588-9158.