LANDOVER – For the past few months, 44-year-old Ninotchka Jones of Upper Marlboro has not been able to pay her mortgage on time, and a few days ago, she received a foreclosure notice.
Jones, an owner of a small catering company, said business has been bad since the start of the economic crisis, and she has struggled to pay all her bills since her husband abandoned her.
“It’s very hard, especially after you’ve been a productive citizen all your life,” she said. “I’ve never ever been in a situation like this. I’ve never had bad credit. I’ve never faced a foreclosure, and I’ve never even imagined being in this situation.”
Jones is one of more than 2,000 homeowners — according to RealtyTrac — in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District facing foreclosure. And Prince George’s County accounts for 32 percent of the state’s more than 8,900 foreclosure “events” – a foreclosure notice, mortgage default notice or a foreclosure sale – with more than 2,800 such events.
Those statistics add up to why Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, held a forum Thursday to help her constituents save their homes.
About 15 years ago, Edwards was facing foreclosure because, as a single mother, she got behind on bill payments, but she was able to work with her lender to keep her home.
“I know the feeling, and I could feel that feeling in the room today with people who are in the same circumstance,” she said.
More than 150 people came to the Prince George’s County Sports and Learning Complex to get help from housing counselors, attorneys and mortgage lenders.
Edwards said the tremendous turnout shows the scope of the problem.
“All it tells me is that we may need to do it again and again,” she said.
Before meeting with the housing volunteers for individual assistance, the homeowners listened to speeches from federal and local officials.
“Do not be afraid, do not be embarrassed, do not be ashamed, but be active,” Edwards urged.
Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson also told the homeowners it is acceptable for them to ask for help.
“The one thing you have to do is reach out,” he said.
Phil Murray, the deputy assistant secretary for single-family housing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, spoke about the programs the Federal Housing Administration offers for homeowners facing foreclosure, such as FHA Secure, which allows borrowers to refinance their mortgages even if they are already behind on payments.
“You have to persevere and push and push and push,” Murray said.
Kelly Vaughn, the outreach director for Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said since the economic crisis, the state has shifted its focus from getting first-time homebuyers into homes to helping homeowners stay in their homes.
“I want you to know that your state is here for you,” she said.
Beverly Banks, a 40-year-old research assistant from Oxon Hill, is taking the preemptive measures the government officials suggested meeting with her lender at the forum before she receives a foreclosure notice.
Banks, who takes care of her elderly mother and a handicapped family member, said she’s been late paying her mortgage for the past six months, and she hopes to restructure her loans so they are more affordable.
“Hopefully, I could get a fixed rate and have it restructured,” she said. “I want to make one payment instead of the three or four payments I make to different entities.”
Jones also had an appointment to meet with her mortgage company to work on her late mortgage.
“I am hoping to come out of here with some type of solution — as to what and how, I don’t know,” she said. “This is my first step.”