Butler County program can put foreclosures on hold

| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 6:21 p.m.

Chris and Brandy Anthony fell behind on their mortgage payments more than a year ago, and they were prepared to say goodbye to their Chicora home.

But thanks to a “credit crunch” program that the Butler County courts and the Butler County Housing Authority administer, the Anthonys hope they'll soon be out from under the cloud of foreclosure and move on to a less stressful financial future.

“We'd have lost the house for sure, or they would have forced us out,” Chris Anthony said. “It's a lot better now. It's a big weight off your shoulders.”

More than 60 people in Butler County avoided losing their homes to foreclosure in 2013 under the program, Butler County Judge Marilyn Horan said. Seventy-three people asked to participate in the program, with 62 diverted from foreclosure, thanks to modification of loans, refinancing, deferment or other steps. Some who participated simply didn't have the financial means to avoid foreclosure, Horan said, but were grateful to have some guidance.

“Some can't be helped, but at least they leave the system understanding their rights, understanding where they're at. They're more relaxed,” Horan said.

She said she helped launch the program in 2010 after seeing a high number of foreclosures and frustrated homeowners thinking there was no hope.

“The mindset is panic,” Horan said. “They just let the ship continue to sail because they don't know how to stop it.”

The program is only available to those whose mortgage companies have filed foreclosure proceedings against a loan holder.

The number of foreclosures changed little in Butler County the past few years, Sheriff Mike Slupe said. His office serves papers on foreclosures throughout the county.

In 2013, his office received 407 new foreclosure cases. In 2012, that number was 443, and in 2011, lenders filed 404 foreclosure cases.

Butler County Commissioners on Wednesday approved funding the credit crunch program with money generated through recorder of deeds fees. Deputy Court Administrator Tom Holman said Wednesday the county spends between $12,000 and $14,000 a year to help administer the program.

Foreclosure papers the sheriff's department serves include information about the diversion program. When someone requests to enter the program, Horan said, that brings the foreclosure proceedings to a stop.

Also, Horan said, the program requires the lender to provide a specific contact name and telephone number so that someone helping the debtor can contact the lending company directly and work on some type of resolution.

“When people can talk, solutions are able to be found,” Horan said. The program in 2013 had 43 pro bono attorney appearances, meaning those attorneys were working for free to help mortgage holders.

There are two court sessions a month in the diversion program: one for credit card debt and another for foreclosures. Program officials said that, many times, those in foreclosure also struggle with credit card debt.

Mike Graham said that after struggling financially because of a divorce and seeking support for two children, he figured he would just let go of his West Sunbury home a few years ago.

But the diversion program gave him time to get support and salary increases to keep up with payments, and he said he'll likely be finished with the program soon.

“They give you a little push so you don't give up,” Graham said.

For more information about the “credit crunch” program, contact the Butler County Court Administrator's office at 724-284-5200 or the Butler County Housing Authority at 724-287-6797.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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