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Last line of defense for families facing loss of their homes
Steve Mort | Orlando, Florida 19 August 2010
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Law students from Florida A&M University go door to door offering help to homeowners facing foreclosure.
The law students from Florida A&M University are going door-to-door in low-income neighborhoods to educate residents about property foreclosures and loan refinancing scams.
The program is backed by a national nonprofit organization created by Congress to help revitalize communities.
As they walk the streets of Pine Hills, a suburb of Orlando, the students don't have to go far to find victims of the collapse of the US housing market.
People like Louvon and Thomas Roberson, who are struggling to stay in their home. They paid a company to help them get a mortgage loan modification but their loan was not modified and, they say, the money they paid to the company was not returned.
"They gave us a 100 percent money-back guarantee," says Louvon Roberson. "We liked that because, if they couldn't get the modification, they were going to give us our money back. Like we wasn't losing anything."
The Robersons now attend a clinic at Florida A&M's law school. The law students - including Christy Collins - are helping them take action in small claims court to recover their money.
"The economy is in such dire straits right now with all these foreclosures and things like that. So people are looking for some sort of answer."
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, neighborhoods with large immigrant and minority populations, such as Pine Hills, have been hit hard with foreclosures.
Some residents do not speak English.
Silvestre Plasencia, an immigrant from Cuba, didn't understand the terms of his variable rate mortgage when he signed the papers during the housing boom.
Like many in his neighborhood, he lost his job in the recession and is now facing foreclosure.
"My plan?" he says. "I don't know. I don't know what I'm going to do. What can I do?"
More than two million American homes are currently in foreclosure. In Florida, one in more than 150 homes received a foreclosure notice in July - the highest number nationwide after California.
Florida A&M law professor, Eunice Caussade-Garcia, says the crisis has spawned many companies offering assistance on refinancing.
"But they're not legitimate and basically what they end up doing is stealing people's money and unfortunately, a lot of times, they do lose their homes regardless of seeking the help," says Caussade-Garcia.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the foreclosure rate is continuing to climb.
So the students, while gaining real-world legal experience, hope their efforts will be the last-line of defense for families that risk losing their homes.