The Lights had an easier time. The Housing Development Fund assigned them a mortgage counselor and temporarily adjusted their terms while Jeff Light found another job.
"We sat down with the counselor and went over all our income," Cynthia Light said. "How much we spent for gas, even feeding my animals, how much we spent on school lunches, all that.
"They helped us figure out a budget. Then they let us go without making payments for three months, you know, gave us time to get financially back on track."
"Then they let us make a half payment for three months," she said.
"They spread the payments we missed out over the mortgage." Their monthly payment rose about $20, she said, "and we can handle that."
"You couldn't find a better program to help you," she said. "I cried with them. They gave me hugs."
"I'd like to see that kind of help available to any West Virginian," Hatfield said. Federally funded mortgage programs must offer counseling, but people with private companies are often on their own.
Susan, the Charleston borrower, is an example. She never got close to hugging anybody from her California mortgage company.
"I never got to talk to the same person twice in a row," she said. "They'd tell me to call back, and each time I'd call, I'd get a different person, and I'd have to start all over. They'd tell me to fax things, and I'd go downtown and fax them, then the next person I'd talk to wouldn't have my faxes, so I'd do it again. They wouldn't let you e-mail things. I spent hours and hours on hold.
"I really needed some kind of cheerleader to keep me going," she said. "But I didn't give up. That's the main thing I want to tell people: Don't give up."
Two weeks before her home was to be sold, HBSC Mortgage Co. agreed to allow her three payment-free months. "Then we'd renegotiate, they said. So I'm not out of the woods yet."
The Housing Development Fund has dedicated $350,000 toward creating a statewide mortgage-counseling network for people like her. "We're looking for other funding sources, but not waiting till we get all the money," Hatfield said. "We need to do this quickly," in light of the deteriorating national economy and rising state delinquencies.
Much of Tuesday's statewide meeting was spent organizing that effort, he said. "Instead of starting from scratch, we're building on programs we already have," joining forces, networking, adding tools.
Why the rush?
Since 2004, West Virginia's 60- and 90-day delinquencies have risen steeply, above the national average, both prime and subprime, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Subprime mortgages are only 12 percent of state loans, but 46 percent of delinquencies, according to Mortgage Bankers.
But this is more than the subprime crisis, Hatfield said. "It's important to realize that."
Consumer prices are rising: utilities, food, transportation, insurance credit fees, medical care. "All that cuts into disposable income available for mortgage payments," he said.
Mortgage payments that were affordable in 2005 can be a problem now.
"That really has nothing to do with subprime mortgage problems," he said. Eight out of 10 West Virginia mortgages are prime. "This affects them too," Hatfield said.
"If unemployment rises, if we get a wave of layoffs, we could get an almost unfixable problem.
It's not enough to just send a borrower in crisis a brochure and paperwork, he said. "To keep foreclosures down, you need person-to-person help. We know from experience."
In Charleston, Susan said one-on-one help would have been welcome. She sold things on eBay, she said, got a roommate, worked seven days a week to keep up. But payments kept rising. "I got down to the wire before they gave me a break."
Her three-month reprieve is over in December. She has a new full-time job, but doesn't know what her new mortgage payments will be. "I worry all the time that they'll set it too high."
Two weeks ago, her mortgage company, plus about 30 other lenders and government programs, announced a new effort they say will help people like her. The new version of Hope Now begins Dec. 15.
But Susan is less willing to hope now. "I don't know," she said. "But I'll check it out."
A mortgage counselor would help her do that.
Kenny Kemp | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Patsy Farrell (right), of Fayetteville, and her daughter Samantha Johnson (with son Garrett) advise borrowers to keep every scrap of paper related to mortgages. Their files include payment checks Farrell's mortgage company cashed, but refused to credit, according to her lawsuit against EMC Mortgage Corp.
Chip Ellis | Sunday Gazette-Mail photo
Worried about rising West Virginia mortgage delinquencies and consumer prices, Joe Hatfield, longtime director of the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, is organizing a statewide mortgage-counseling network for troubled borrowers.
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 348-1798.