Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Preaching practical good news to the poor

OK, a good move from HUD that's a sample of more good stuff: a conference, in Washington on March 23, for "Faith And Community Leaders," to teach ways of preventing foreclosure and to help participants become certified housing counselors.

There's only one location for the conference, and the announcement hit the listserv just 15 days ahead of time, so this event in itself doesn't seem huge. However, a quick look around shows a sprinkling of local events like this have been organized with HUD support around the country over the past year in places like Reno and Phoenix. More generally HUD's Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships now seems to be engaging religious groups as conduits for homeowner education.

It's great if conferences like these are getting knowledge out to community volunteers and religious groups in poor neighborhoods -- places where a low-income homeowner is likely to go for charity or advice, without maybe knowing that there are legal rights to assert.

Education by itself isn't enough. HUD should be backing up community advocates so they can be really firm with the companies (and government collection departments in areas like Medicaid) that are hovering over people's houses. But education is a start.

More generally, legal issue-spotting is a huge problem for house-rich, cash-poor people. Especially in historically redlined neighborhoods, a lot of low-income homeowners have been excluded from the conventional wisdom that gets handed around in the suburbs about things like trusts and Medicaid spend-downs and asset transfers with retained life estates. Also, people in poor neighborhoods can get in the habit of accepting obviously bad deals because they seem to be the only deals available. A person who is in the habit of having to overpay may need advice on when it is safe to insist on something better.

So, a start. We need more.

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