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HUD director credits Obama programs with helping shrink Clayton foreclosures

MORROW — Several dozen real estate pros shared ideas on how to push mortgage refinancing and help keep pulling Clayton County out of its foreclosure crisis at a roundtable Friday at the National Archives.

The meeting, called by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Ed Jennings, was meant as a way to brainstorm ideas for promoting President Obama’s programs designed to keep people in their homes.

However, it also provided an opportunity for Jennings and Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell to announce that foreclosures in the county had dropped 17 percent from June 2011 to June 2012. Clayton’s high foreclosure rate had made it a regional poster child for the housing crisis.

“Somebody in this community is doing something right,” said Jennings. “I don’t know who, but somebody is doing something right.”

Jennings conceded that an improved job market may have helped shrink foreclosure numbers. However, he was quick to point out that Obama administration programs designed to keep homeowners in their homes were also major factors.

“The [reduced foreclosure] numbers speak for themselves when you have a community that has received government funding for a purpose, which was to stabilize neighborhoods,” said Jennings. “This is one of the leading counties because of where they started, but they’re also definitely one of the leaders in how they’ve used government investment.”

The Clayton conference, the first one in Georgia, was one of 50 roundtables scheduled across the country.

Conferees agreed that the biggest problem was educating homeowners about the labyrinth of programs available — and that the best way to do that was through HUD-approved housing counselors.

“When you’re sick, you don’t go to medical school and try to understand all the issues. When you have a legal issue, you don’t go to law school,” said Jennings. “The same thing with this.”

HUD finance compliance officer Brenda Rayburn, who helped facilitate the roundtable, said that the complexity of the real estate crisis was part of why it’s been so difficult to solve.

“Someone used an analogy that it’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube,” said Rayburn. “The housing industry is like that. All you need to do is get one color on each side, right? It sounds easy, it sounds straightforward, but it’s not.”