Posted December 10, 202011:59 am
Much attention has been paid to the plight of low-income renters during COVID-19, as rising unemployment, remote school, and decreased hours in the service industry left many struggling to make ends meet.
But homeowners have not been immune to this economic crisis. In rural areas such as Ashtabula County, the threat of foreclosure looms large. Legal Aid has helped families avoid this financial devastation and remained housed while the pandemic rages on.
One recent client, Mallory Killbourne, lives with her husband Mike and three children in Ashtabula County. (Names have been changed to protect client privacy). Mallory became disabled last year, and now receives Social Security Disability Income. Mike had been working steadily, but was let go in 2019 after missing numerous days of work due to medical appointments and coming down with the flu. He began working as a Lyft driver, but when COVID-19 "stay at home" orders took effect in March 2020, Mike's income took a drastic hit. He also learned that he had been exposed to COVID-19, and had to quarantine (sacrificing work and any income) for 14 days. Fearing foreclosure on their home, the family contacted Legal Aid, and attorney Anne Reese took on the case.
Anne worked swiftly to submit a forbearance request to the Kilbourne's bank. She knew that the CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 27, included a Foreclosure Forbearance clause. This prohibits new foreclosures during COVID-19 and stipulates that a Federally backed mortgage loan borrower who affirms he or she is experiencing financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 emergency shall be granted for a forbearance of up to 360 days. Anne's request pointedly explained that the Kilbourne family's hardship was related to the pandemic. The request was approved, and the Kilbourne family was able to stay in their home. They could now defer mortgage payments to a later date, giving them time to save.
Another one of Anne's clients, James Allen (name changed to protect client privacy), has lived in his house for 17 years. He worked at a factory, but his hours were cut drastically due to COVID-19. Worried for his financial future and afraid he'd lose his home, James contacted Legal Aid for help.
Anne got right to work on James's case. She obtained a 90-day forbearance at the beginning of April, which she was later able to extend through the end of December. While working on his case, Anne also discovered that James had a student loan administrative off-set of his income tax refund. She helped him submit a Hardship Exemption application to stop any future off-sets.
"Owing a home is a point of pride for many families and can provide firm financial stability," says Anne. "Protecting homeowners during the pandemic is critically important, and my role at Legal Aid is to be that lifeline they need.