LOWELL -- If you think the nation has its home-mortgage crisis in its rear-view mirror, think again.
Attorney General Martha Coakley says HomeCorps, a home-foreclosure-prevention program run by her office, receives 70 calls a day from homeowners looking for help. Since the inception of the program last April, the program handles 15,000 calls, providing direct assistance to many and referring others to appropriate organizations.
In addition, in 2012, 230 people from across the state, including more than 180 households from the Merrimack Valley, came to Home Preservation Center, which the Coalition for Better Acres and Community Team Inc. together operate in Lowell.
Calling the explosion in the number of foreclosures a "manmade disaster" caused banks issuing risky loans, Coakley said she wants to make sure the $44 million that her office has received as the state's share of the $25 billion national mortgage settlement will go to those who need it.
The collaboration of the AG's Office on the mortgage crisis is valuable, Mayor Patrick Murphy told Coakley, because foreclosures don't just affect the tax base.
"It's not only destabilization of neighborhoods but also destabilization of families and lives," Murphy said of foreclosures in a roundtable meeting with Coakley and area housing advocates Wednesday.
In commemoration of the national mortgage settlement announced one year ago this week, Coakley sat down with community leaders from Lowell and around the region at Lowell City Hall to discuss strategies to deal with the ongoing mortgage crisis.
The HomeCorps program funds borrowers' assistance, including loan modification, borrower representation and borrower recovery. The program, which has an office in Lowell, has so far successfully prevented 427 foreclosure actions and helped more than 1,100 households get their loan modified, totaling more than $13 million in principal reduction relief.
Coakley said Wednesday she wanted to hear from area housing advocates about what part of HomeCorps efforts works or doesn't work.
Marisa Melendez, HomeCorps coordinator, said making immigrant homeowners aware of available assistance programs can be a challenge because of the language barrier.
The language issue also adds to the stress that borrowers experience, she said. And just because people know help exists, doesn't mean they can figure out whom to turn to, they said.
"There is so much information out there about the home-foreclosure crisis, they don't know what applies to them," said Jennifer Kurrus, attorney general for the Merrimack Valley Legal Services.
Some advocates said borrowers are also falling prey to bogus loan-modification programs. Suzanne Frechette, deputy director for the Coalition for Better Acres, said people should be taught to be skeptical of programs that take money from them.
"You need to keep stressing: 'Free services, free services, free services,' " Frechette said.
Karen Frederick, executive director of CTI, said the Home Preservation Program has assisted 1,749 households since 2006 and that only 1 percent of those who got help went into foreclosure. City Assistant Manager Adam Baacke also noted very few of those who took Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership's first-time homeowners courses to qualify for a discount on interest rates and a grant toward purchase of a house have gone into foreclosure. Financial literacy education is key to preventing foreclosure, Baacke said.
Homeowners who need assistance can call HomeCorps hotline at 617-573-5333.