U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13th), Chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing, and Community Opportunity, today welcomed DuPage County's top housing official to Capitol Hill for a hearing on federal housing counseling programs. Debra Olson, Interim Executive Director of DuPage Homeownership Center, testified at a subcommittee hearing entitled, "HUD and NeighborWorks Housing Counseling Oversight." As a member of the DuPage County Board, Olson also provided testimony on behalf of the National Association of Counties. Other witnesses included U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials and housing counseling advocates.
"Reliable and effective financial counseling can make a world of difference for a struggling homeowner," said Biggert. "As a former real estate attorney, I know that good counselors can help to guide borrowers through the arcane world of mortgage finance -- steering them away from foreclosure down the road. With so many homeowners at risk of default, our task is to closely examine federal programs and ensure they are working effectively to help those in need."
Olson discussed the effectiveness of HUD Housing Counseling programs in reducing foreclosure rates and assisting communities in recovering from the foreclosure crisis, especially in Illinois, which -- according to RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure database -- has the fifth highest foreclosure rates in the U.S. The ratio of foreclosure to homeownership in DuPage County ranks it the eighth highest in the state, Olson said. During Fiscal Year 2011, the DuPage Homeownership Center's foreclosure prevention education workshops and one-on-one counseling helped 279 families prevent foreclosure.
Olson testified about the cost-effectiveness of counseling programs, which can save thousands compared to foreclosure proceedings. According to Olson, "a critical missing component" in the Administration's latest efforts to address the foreclosure crisis is counseling.
"HUD's programs assist families in crisis to stem the tide of foreclosure, allow seniors to remain in their home through a reverse mortgage, help people to determine their financial readiness for rental or home purchase, and allow low-income populations to become more invested in their community through responsible and sustainable homeownership," said Olson. "Housing counseling services are a critical component to the recovery of our economy, the housing market, and families in crisis."
She also testified about efforts to consolidate federal counseling programs, improve oversight and streamline management. Biggert's bill, the Expand and Preserve Home Ownership Through Counseling Act, took a major step toward that goal by establishing a central office of housing counseling within HUD. It was the basis for provisions signed into law in 2010 as part of broader legislation.
"Bringing all housing counseling under one umbrella allows the best practices to be preserved and needed changes to be made," said Olson. "Creating uniform and streamlined grant-writing, reporting and billing processes can achieve greater efficiency at the ground level, allowing more dollars to be spent on services and fewer dollars spent on administrative time."