Riverside County supervisors approved today a $125,000 contract with a nonprofit group to offer classes for low-income residents on home financing and how to prevent making mistakes that lead to foreclosure.
USA HELP Inc. will offer free instruction to residents countywide over the next year under the agreement with the Economic Development Agency, which the board approved 5-0.
Supervisor John Benoit initially hesitated to support the contract, worrying that USA HELP’s focus had changed from two years ago, when the county first arranged homeowner assistance workshops through the organization.
“The purpose of this county expenditure is primarily to help people who are in distress stay in their homes,” Benoit said. “I’m afraid the focus of the program has shifted away from that to other areas.”
The supervisor said the language of the agreement suggested an effort to “help people buy properties in distressed neighborhoods.”
“I’d like to make sure, when we’re spending taxpayer dollars, we keep the focus first and foremost on helping people navigate the labyrinth of difficult things that go on between the bank and a homeowner to help them stay in that home,” he said.
In its literature, USA HELP says it will counsel prospective home buyers on how to access county programs to facilitate a first-time home purchase; provide easy-to-understand tutorials on the basics of mortgage financing; and inform participants about potential scams.
According to the group, classes will be geared to residents whose household income is at or below 120 percent of the county median income, adjusted for size, and who have the “intent” of maintaining or “acquiring an affordable homeownership opportunity.”
EDA spokesman Emilio Ramirez assured Benoit that the program’s emphasis would be on foreclosure prevention and responsible homeownership.
But before he would vote in favor, Benoit requested that EDA compile a report in 90 days summarizing how participants have benefited from USA HELP’s workshops — a move supported by the other supervisors.
The county first contracted with USA HELP in 2008. The nonprofit, run by former Norco Mayor Chris Sorensen, who operates a loan servicing firm, was retained to offer seminars on loan modifications, short-sale refinancing and deferments.
For the past three years, the Inland Empire has consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally in foreclosure activity.