‘This Has Dissolved into Disaster at the National Level’
Since forming more than 30 years ago, Nashville-based nonprofit organization Affordable Housing Resources, Inc. (AHR) has been laying the foundation for successful home ownership for Middle Tennessee’s workforce. The organization creates affordable housing and strong neighborhoods in 40 Middle Tennessee counties through a range of services, including foreclosure prevention, homebuyer education, mortgage lending, and new home construction. AHR is committed to providing homeownership opportunities for low- to moderate-income families. It has assisted more than 17,000 people in buying their first home as well as developed and sold more than 1,400 single-family homes.
The organization has received a $25,000 grant from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund to provide mortgage mitigation assistance to individuals and families affected by March 2020 tornadoes, in partnership with Lee Chapel AME Church.
If there’s anyone in the area that can attest to how the worldwide COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has greatly complicated the work on tornado relief and recovery in Middle Tennessee, it’s Eddie Latimer.
Latimer is CEO of the Nashville-based nonprofit Affordable Housing Resources, which works to create affordable housing in Nashville and throughout Middle Tennessee in a number of ways, including foreclosure prevention, homebuyer education, mortgage lending, and new home construction.
When deadly and destructive tornadoes swept through Middle Tennessee in early March, Latimer and his staff leapt into action.
The organization quickly created a program to help homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage after their homes suffered tornado damage. The Tornado Mortgage Mitigation Program (TMMP) is a free, no-strings-attached nonprofit service designed to help those homeowners affected by the March 3 tornadoes in Wilson, Putnam and Davidson counties.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine arrived just weeks later.
“COVID,” Latimer says now, “quickly overtook the tornadoes.”
Since then the quest to maintain and expand affordable housing has included the federal CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law in late March. It offered immediate relief by including free mortgage forbearance programs created for homeowners affected by the pandemic.
Those measures are countered by threat of “a ticking time bomb once the grace period is over,” as Latimer warned in an opinion piece published recently in The Tennessean.
Those who sought help to get a “holiday” from their mortgage payment —under the Natural Disaster Policy, a 12-month holiday — were put under the COVID 90-day forbearance programs, he explained.
“This,” Latimer tells CFMT, “has dissolved into disaster at the national level.”
This mortgage disaster has a greater impact on lower-income and older homeowners, he emphasizes, with over 80 percent backed by federal home mortgages. The lower-income population composes the bulk of the nation’s workforce and, as a percentage, are likely to be first-time home buyers, single women, and people of color.
To help shed more light on these affordable housing challenges, Latimer recently responded to questions from The Community Foundation.
CFMT: How did you use the tornado emergency response grant?
AHR: The tornado mortgage relief program we created for this CFMT grant (TMMP) was picked up nationally and edited to a Best Practices for to help COVID unemployed. This was big deal for us. It is essentially the tornado program.”
CFMT: How does this mortgage relief program work?
AHR: We’ve developed a model that places a trained nonprofit representative in the middle of the forbearance process, working as a liaison between the mortgage servicer and the homeowner. Building off our experience during the last foreclosure crisis [2010-2015], the organization’s staff understands that having a knowledgeable advocate and coordinator can mean the difference between a homeowner remaining in their home and foreclosure.
The program is designed to ensure that homeowners achieve the best outcomes from the forbearance process and avoid expensive fines, damage to their credit and, most importantly, foreclosure. Beginning with the initial request for forbearance and covering all the way through to the final workout option, AHR’s five-step program is designed to support homeowners through key milestones in the forbearance process. The program is designed to be applied by qualified housing nonprofits, including AHR.
CFMT: Does your organization plan to expand the program?
AHR: The program is just beginning to ramp up now. Although the organization has not yet seen a high volume of calls, it expects demand to ramp up significantly, primarily due to the new mortgage and rental assistance programs created by the CARES Act.
As AHR receives more calls from these programs, AHR plans to place as many mortgage customers in a 12-month mortgage forbearance/holiday versus paying only a few months of their delinquent mortgage payments. The 12-month mortgage holiday will provide greater stability for the homeowners and will give them more time to complete the repairs on their home or to finally receive their insurance settlement.
To support an anticipated increase in demand, the organization has lined up a team of five staff members experienced in mortgage servicing and foreclosure prevention through NMFC [National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling]. AHR hopes to expand the program’s adoption across other housing nonprofits that serve Tennesseans.
CFMT: In light of changes in how we all live and work due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, how is your organization managing to work in supporting tornado relief and recovery efforts? What challenges have you all overcome or are overcoming?
AHR: To work in tornado recovery takes focused effort, as our efforts to address the narrow path of the tornado often get pushed out by the global impact of COVID and the COVID programs and job losses and other side effects. Being physically involved in the tornado-impacted communities, via canvassing or meetings or other ways, helps us to stay focused.
For AHR, the particular challenges are to get the word out of our program and to keep it out in the communities. The VOAD [Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters] calls held by the CFMT, and the networking from these calls, is also very helpful keeping AHR focused on the tornado.
CFMT: Give a favorite example or two of your staffers or volunteers stepping up to make a difference to help people through these disasters?
AHR: For me, the staff stories I am most proud of are how our staff steps up to help guide the homeowners through their continuing dark days. Many homeowners have still not settled with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and/or insurance and/or a contractor.
The challenges to get [tornado survivors’] lives restored seems so hopeless at times in their daily lives … these homeowners are numb. Our staff is good at holding their hands to guide them through the ongoing challenges they experience in their tornado tragedy that has been seriously complicated by the pandemic shutdowns.
CFMT: In terms of tornado relief and recovery, what needs remain in your community or communities for tornado relief and recovery?
AHR: I would like to see canvassing, or something similar to that, continue. We found that those in the tornado-impacted communities appreciate and need to be reminded of the numerous programs that are available to them. Some residents lose our contact info or move on and now have new needs or become challenged by insurance or other third-party programs, and our organized help remains needed. But we need to be there to remind the residents what our help is and that it is available.
CFMT: Define the word “hope” for you and your organization.
AHR: This is a question I would not have chosen to answer. Hope is a hard thing to realize these days. If it had just been the tornadoes, hope would be easier to see as we have previously been down this road of recovery with successful results. But then COVID derailed so much of our society that light/hope became darker and harder to see. The pending election does not bring any light to the scene. Plus, you add in Black Lives Matter and the [police] shootings that brought this movement to life, and the equity issues caused by our history, light/hope became harder to see.
But there is light in the tunnel. This light comes from the promises that God is here; from being older and having been to other rodeos of darkness; from seeing the communities and nonprofits and citizens desire to work all our mess out. Hope means if we all do our part and listen, we will get there.
Learn More About Affordable Housing Resources
Online at https://ahrhousing.org/