Hispanic Families Face Additional Challenges in their Battle to Save Their Homes COLUMBIA, MD (August 19) – Secretary Skinner and members of the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs heard heartbreaking testimony from families whose fight to save their homes from foreclosure was made more difficult because of language and cultural differences and the predatory practices of some unscrupulous lenders. Speaking through an interpreter, one woman described how she paid a private counselor $3,000 to help her negotiate a loan modification after falling behind on her mortgage. Instead of helping her, the mother of three testified, the counselor pocketed the money and stopped answering her phone calls. Another woman said the monthly payments on her adjustable rate mortgage ballooned from $1,600 a month to $4,000 a month after it reset. After falling behind in her mortgage, she sought help from a loan counseling agency she found on the Internet. The agency not only demanded a hefty fee for its services, it negotiated a modified loan that cost the woman more - $4,600 a month. “These stories are happening over and over again all over the state,” said Ofelia Ardon- Jones, of Montgomery County’s Centro de Apoyo Familiar, at the commission’s Aug. 19 meeting in Columbia. “Lenders are taking advantage of families; not fully explaining their options and rights. All they seem interested in is money.” Hispanics comprise one of Maryland’s fastest growing communities, growing by over 65 percent over the past eight years and “strengthening our entire state through their contributions,” Governor O’Malley says. Secretary Skinner told the commission that hardworking middle class Hispanic families – like other minority consumers – were deliberately targeted by unscrupulous lenders. Hispanic communities were hard hit by the subprime lending and foreclosure crisis over the past two years. In response, the Department of Housing and Community Development, under the leadership of the O’Malley-Brown administration, participated in five bilingual foreclosure prevention workshops, helping more than 400 families. The department has aired its “Mortgage Late? Don’t Wait!” message in Spanish language radio outlets and publications. Secretary Skinner said the testimony underscored the importance of making counseling an integral part of the home buying process, which the state has done through its Maryland Mortgage Program. He said Maryland, under the leadership of Governor Martin O’Malley has set up a statewide network of free foreclosure counseling agencies, so citizens should never pay an outside agency for help.