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Foreclosures hit home

Sammie Pakros, her 2-year-old grandson and her ex-husband have been living on borrowed time.

In March 2008, the 53-year-old couldn't make her $1,400 mortgage payment on her east Medford home after losing her job as a dental hygienist.

Pakros hasn't made a payment since.

Like many Jackson County residents forced into foreclosure proceedings because of the recession, she has been coming to terms with the day she must leave her home of the past 25 years.

"If they call me tomorrow and tell me to move out, I will cry, but I will move on," she said.

Since the recession began in December 2007, lending institutions have foreclosed on 1,718 homes in Jackson County. A third more mortgages went into default during that time, according to county statistics.

This year alone, 919 homes have been foreclosed on and 1,855 property owners have received notices they are at least 90 days behind in their payments, according to data compiled by Rogue Federal Credit Union, based on county information.

And it's only expected to get worse.

Some 2,500 adjustable rate mortgages countywide will automatically ratchet to a higher interest rate beginning next year, which will put more families at risk of losing their homes, local real-estate experts said. One expert said he knows of a loan that will rise from $1,400 a month to $2,100, and the homeowner is out of work.

Stemming the tide of foreclosures has been the goal of ACCESS Inc., a nonprofit that provides food and housing assistance, and Building Hope, an alliance of businesses and organizations spearheaded by Rogue Federal Credit Union and the Home Builders Association of Jackson County.

But keeping up with the demand for assistance has taxed these agencies, which spend considerable time wading through the complicated financial situations and loan problems of local residents.

They have been helping residents make the tough decisions to scale back on expenses and find other income sources, while considering the harsh realities of whether they have the financial wherewithal to keep their homes.

Pakros said though she has a dog-washing business, Dirty Dogz, she can't generate enough income to even consider refinancing options. Her bank has been more understanding than most, offering her a three-month reprieve on payments that would be tacked onto the end of her loan.

Because the downturn in the economy has meant people are putting off their teeth-cleaning, Pakros has had difficulty finding a job. And for the first time in her life, she's had to get food stamps, she said.

She fears that when the time comes to leave her home, she won't have the money to pay rent for an apartment for her, her grandson A.J., and her 61-year-old ex-husband, Alden Pakros, who is disabled.

"I'm just living with my ex platonically," she said. "We're just there to support each other to get through this."

It's an all-too-familiar situation to Pete Cislo, who has devoted two hours a day to Building Hope. The organization has provided educational classes and counseling to 600 families since it was founded a year ago.

Cislo said he has advised some people to stop making their mortgage payments because they have run out of money.

A Medford architectural designer, for example, came to him and said his work had dried up because of the collapse of the construction market. His wife was pregnant and they had only $6,000 left in savings.

"I never expected to be in a public situation telling people not to make house payments," said Cislo, who works for Leave Your Mark landscaping supply.

Cislo said he first encourages people who are behind in their house payments to contact the lender. They might find, like Pakros did, that the lender is in no hurry to get them out of the house.

Or they might find their lender difficult to deal with, as did one Medford woman who was short $160 on her $1,800 house payment. The lender refused to accept the partial payment, Cislo said.

Medford resident Fred Burnhart, in a desperate battle to save his home from foreclosure, spent the better part of this year getting bounced from banks to refinance companies as he tried to renegotiate his loan.

He said he was barraged with paperwork, misinformation and offers to refinance at a monthly rate higher than he paid before. He said he received 15 different answers from 15 different people about his loan modification.

"They don't give a damn whether you keep your house or not," said Burnhart, who is struggling with declining income from his business.

Eventually, Burnhart managed to get his loan renegotiated with help from ACCESS Inc., but is still worried about a second loan and the possibility he could still lose his house.

ACCESS Inc., on the front lines of the foreclosure crisis, has only two full-time employees to help 80 families figure their way out of foreclosure.

"We are over our limit as to how many cases we can handle," said ACCESS Housing Director Cindy Dyer, who said she has been referring callers to Building Hope.

Each case her organization confronts is unique, requiring a great deal of staff time to sort through.

ACCESS doesn't want to shut the door to people seeking help, but Dyer said the need is overwhelming.

She said a year ago ACCESS was helping people who had taken out bad loans. Now, many of the people coming to the organization have lost their jobs and are running out of money.

"It's now an unemployment issue," she said.

Kerrie Davis, community education and outreach coordinator for the not-for-profit Rogue Federal Credit Union, said she expects commercial loan foreclosures to follow on the heels of residential defaults if the economy doesn't improve.

"I think we've got 2010 to go through," said Davis, adding she hopes to see signs of improvement in 2011.

Davis, who speaks at seminars designed to help residents survive foreclosure, said she's noticed many of the participants enjoyed a middle-to-upper-class lifestyle and had never been in serious financial trouble before.

Some who were strong supporters of nonprofits never imagined they would need support themselves.

"I told them don't forget about getting your food stamps — there was a look of shock," said Davis. "Somebody said this was their American dream. These people are paralyzed."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

After losing her job as a dental hygienist, Sammie Pakros can no longer make the payments on the east Medford home that she shares with grandson A.J., 2, and ex-husband Alden Pakros. - Bob Pennell