Steve Goldstein: Arizona's housing market has shown signs of improvement in recent months, but foreclosures are still a problem. Plenty of people are struggling to make ins meet and foreclosure counselors are busy trying to keep them in their homes. They've been doing a pretty good job according to a recent report, that puts their success rate at around 70%. Here to talk about how her homeowners is Patricia Garcia Duarte who chairs the Arizona foreclosure prevention task force. Thanks for being here. So what's the situation right now? People have been optimistic in certain ways, but there's still a lot of foreclosures.
Patricia Garcia Duarte: There's good signs, we're excited about the fact there's improvement. But the fact of the matter is, way too many people are still struggling. They're still struggling, and we want to make sure that people are aware that there's free resources that are available. So several studies have published the facts that those that to go to a HUD-approved counseling agency are more likely to have better outcomes. That means more savings on a monthly basis. And it's free. There's no charge. So that is the one thing the adds foreclosure prevention task force wants to make sure that community members know and learn about and share this information with others. There's a state hotline, that number is available across Arizona. And it's 877-448-1211. We have that number available, if people call it's like an operator center, they will connect them to the nearest housing counseling agency that can provide them with free assistance.
Steve Goldstein: What are the most common questions people have to ask counselors, even the most basic Eclipse Educational version only -- not for commercial use
Patricia Garcia Duarte: Well, people are always curious about timing. You know, we've been in this a long time. Five years since the foreclosure prevention task force got organized. And there's been a lot of improvement, but we know that there's still a lot of work to be done. So at the beginning people were very frustrated because the length of time was just outrageous. It's still lengthy, but it's being managed. Documents are not being lost anymore, but the responses for whatever reasons still take a long time. But it varies. Every case is different. The important thing is for people to know that things are different. If they have heard family, neighbors, complain in the past that they didn't get any help, well, it's a new day. It is a new time, because there's a global settlement that was just settled, and that is forcing servicers to take different approaches. There's way too many programs. Now it's confusing for the people to really assess what's out there. That's why we want to really encouraging folks to call the hotline, talk to an expert, a HUD-approved counseling agency with certified counselors, to better understand and maneuver what's out and available for them.
Steve Goldstein: You mentioned frustration. How much does fear still come Eclipse Educational version only -- not for commercial use When people are just confused, and they don't know necessarily what to ask and they may think people are not necessarily on the up and up?
Patricia Garcia Duarte: It's still very common. This has been a huge problem. The last five years I know that we have had 180,000 actual foreclosures. That means people lost their homes. And then there's been a lot of short sales as well. This magnitude has been horrific. But people are still embarrassed. More than fear, there's a pride thing getting in the way preventing them from picking up the phone and calling for free help.
Steve Goldstein: Are people still walking away from their homes? To avoid foreclosure?
Patricia Garcia Duarte: Some folks choose to strategically walk and that's the choice they make. But they should better understand what are some of the consequences associated with doing that. They are responsible for that property, even when it's vacant, until it's been foreclosed, and it's transferred to the ownership of the financial institution, they will be responsible for that. They have to be very cautious with homeowner association dues. And things like that. So our job is to prevent foreclosures. Our job is to really evaluate and help the families better understand what their options are.
Steve Goldstein: How could good a job do you think the federal government has done? Not only in terms of providing resources, but making clear the resources are available?
Patricia Garcia Duarte: The government has done what they have been able to do, it was a little bit late, the reaction. But the tools are there. If it wouldn't have been for the making home affordable program, we wouldn't have had a standardized program for modifications. Prior to the MHA program, making homeowners affordable, as a matter of fact President Obama came to Arizona and he announced it in Mesa. Before then, there wasn't a system -- a systemic way of evaluating who quality identifies for modifications. At least this program set some parameters, some criteria. And it's become the standard. So that was very successful. We were hopeful that more millions of families would have been able to qualify under that. But I don't know why. I know that financial institutions have offered very similar programs in house. Instead of the program. Why, I'm not sure. But at the end of the day, if a family was able to stay in their home, that's what we're looking for. Someone to stay and prevent one more property from being foreclosed, or a short sale because people are being -- having to be displaced from their homes. More families being able to stay in their homes helps with the stability of communities that they very much need.
Steve Goldstein: The foreclosures have been considered a real blight onsetter communities. How much of a difference -- when we compare 2007 to today, if we give 2007 a grade of an F, where are we at now?
Patricia Garcia Duarte: We're much better. Last year there was about -- I think the number was 54,000 foreclosures. Actual foreclosures. This year, the end of may, we're already over 8,000. So we're improving, but if 2003, 2004 were the normal years, we still have a long ways to go. 2,000-3,000 foreclosures a year would be normal. We're already twice higher than what a normal year should look like and it's only the middle of the year.
Steve Goldstein: Real estate analyst and observers talk about the foreclosure tsunami. We've had a couple much those already. Based on what you're doing with the prevention task force, is this a way to avoid another tsunami coming around corner?
Patricia Garcia Duarte: That's what we're hoping, to keep more families in their homes. So that all this transfer of property, there's too many properties that are being picked up by -- I'm not saying all investor groups are bad, because some are good, but what are we converting into. A community of more rental. And that may not be the best thing for some neighborhoods. So our goal really is to try to prevent the displacement, keep more families in their homes, so that those properties don’t turn into a flipper, an investor that is really not going to invest in necessary rehab and have affordable rents for people that may not need them.
Steve Goldstein: Finally, tell me your level of optimism going forward.
Patricia Garcia Duarte: I'm very optimistic, especially because there's more programs, there's potentially settlement money that the state is going to receive, I'm hopeful that the settlement money is going to be used in a way to help more consumers, more families that are struggling. So people just need to let us help them. We want to help.
Steve Goldstein: Patricia, thanks so much.
Patricia Garcia Duarte: Thank you.