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Saving our home: one family's story



 With the economic downturn and collapse of the housing market, a staggering number of families are struggling to meet their mortgage payments. Many face losing their homes to foreclosure. CBA’s Home Preservation Center is giving them new hope, helping to preserve their homes, neighborhoods, and communities.

George and Susan Duncan have always pulled their own weight. Working steadily since they were teen-agers, they always believed that if you work hard, life rewards you.

But several years ago, the world changed. Susan was laid off from her job after 30 years of work with Boston accounting firms. As the economy took a devastating downturn, the housing market collapsed, and George’s contracting business with it.

“Business just gradually slowed down – people weren’t building new homes and stopped renovating the homes they had,” says George, a respected carpenter and contractor. “It was like someone turned the light off. The phone just stopped ringing. It was a desperate feeling.”

Both continued to look for work, but the job market had dried up. When Susan’s unemployment benefits ran out and their savings dwindled, they were faced with the realization that they could lose their home, a lovely, modest Colonial bordering Lake Mascuppic in Tyngsboro where Susan’s mother and grown daughter also lived.

Already thrifty, the couple cut back on all but necessary expenses, and then started selling anything of value: George’s truck, their piano, exercise equipment, George’s prized tools. They swallowed their pride and accepted donations from their church – anything to allow them to meet their mortgage payment each month. But it was becoming increasingly evident that they would not be able to continue to make those payments. Selling the house wasn’t an option because with the drop in home values, they owed more than the house was worth.

In the spring of 2009, they were inquiring about fuel assistance at Community Teamwork, Inc. (CTI) in Lowell when a CTI staff member told them about CBA’s Foreclosure Prevention Program at the Home Preservation Center, which helps homeowners experiencing difficulty meeting their mortgage payments. 

“At that point, we were so discouraged that we didn’t have much hope left,” George recalls. “But they took one look at our situation and said, ‘We can help’. Those words meant everything to us. It’s the best thing that ever happened.”

As a “one-stop center”, CBA brings together foreclosure services by CBA and Community Teamwork Inc. under one roof in downtown Lowell, at 450 Merrimack St. The Center provides group foreclosure education workshops, one-on-one foreclosure prevention counseling, budget counseling, help with hardship letters and technical assistance, and support in obtaining loan forbearance and modification of loans.  The staff also help homeowners seeking assistance with short sales, provide referrals to rental housing and they provide access to legal assistance through local partner organizations.

Over the following months, a foreclosure prevention counselor worked with George and Susan to modify their loan so they could continue to make payments at a rate manageable at their reduced income level.

“People come to us in crisis and feel they have nowhere else to turn,” says Debbie Mullins, Director of the Home Preservation Center. “Our goal is to help them to help themselves. By believing in them and fighting for them, we can empower them to take control of their lives again when they feel their situation is out of their control.”

The Center’s primary goal is to keep people in their homes – preserving not only the individuals and families affected, but also strengthening the local and regional economy. Since 2009, the Center has counseled more than 300 homeowners a year who are facing foreclosure. 

George and Susan both recently found work in retail stores, at a fraction of their previous incomes. They, like millions of other Americans, still face a challenging financial future as the economy struggles to recover. But they are facing it with a roof over their heads, secure in their home. 

“All I can say is, ‘Thank God for this program and the CBA,’” Susan says. “Times are still tough, but we’ve got our home and we can handle whatever life will hand us now.”