Housing and Gifts and Philanthropy

Bank supports network for struggling homeowners

May 11, 2009
The story behind the gift:

Fifth Third Bank is one of several lenders supporting a comprehensive resource for homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

The bank recently made a $10,000 gift to the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, a quasi-public agency.

Through its Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network, IHCDA runs a hot line answered by Momentive, a not-for-profit consumer counseling agency. Homeowners who call might be referred to one of 50 trained specialists working throughout the state.

"Before the network, [homeowners] didn't know where to turn," said Beverly Mukes-Gaither, senior vice president and community development manager for the Fifth Third Foundation. (The donation came out of the local-giving budget for Fifth Third in Indiana, not the corporate foundation.)

Mukes-Gaither said the hot line (877-GET-HOPE) has been effective because it's operated seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and because the people answering the phone are well-trained.

"[Callers are] actually talking to someone who's asking the right kind of questions to ascertain what their situation is," he said.

The network also helps banks with their own attempts to prevent foreclosures, Mukes-Gaither said. Fifth Third has created a mobile classroom, which is a bus staffed by outside counselors and bankers that travels to different cities to meet with customers, or even non-customers in need of advice. (The bus will be in Indianapolis in June.)

The network staff helped craft a letter to customers who are late with payments to make them aware of when the bus will be in their area, "so they don't see it as just another ask from the bank to collect on their mortgage."

The network has also held four events that guarantee homeowners face time with a bank representative.

Banks' loss-mitigation specialists pull homeowners' foreclosure files and come to the event with workable solutions in hand, said Sherry Seiwert, executive director of the IHCDA. More than 800 borrowers have attended events, held at places like Light of the World church on Michigan Road.

The network has fielded 25,000 calls since its inception in late 2007, and helped 8,000 people over the phone or in person.

"If they call early enough," Seiwert said, "the counselor certainly can talk to the lender and try to prevent that foreclosure."

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Know of a gift that IBJ should feature? Contact Kathleen McLaughlin at kmclaughlin@ibj.com.
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