OnTrack: Bailed out

Staring a dire funding crisis in the face, the folks who run the nonprofit On Track Financial Education & Counseling are breathing easier these days.

Recently, the agency was denied a $135,000 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. But thanks to the state and some generous individuals and businesses, the shortfall will be fully funded in the new year.

OnTrack (formerly the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of WNC) has been a HUD-approved housing-counseling agency since 1979 and has received annual HUD grant funding for more than 20 years. This year, OnTrack requested the $135,000 specifically to provide services such as foreclosure-prevention counseling, reverse-mortgage counseling for elderly homeowners, and homebuyer education. However, HUD denied OnTrack the grant, asserting that the agency filled out the online application incorrectly, a claim that OnTrack Executive Director Celeste Collins claims is rubbish.

The need for the money is serious, in light of the fact that it would have accounted for more than 10 percent of the group’s $1.1 million budget for 2008-09, not to mention the increasing need for assistance in the current economy. By the end of September, the group had already counseled 53 percent more clients who were either delinquent or in default on their mortgages than it did in all of 2007, Collins reports.

While HUD refused to budge, others have stepped up the plate, Collins says. Individual local donors, nonprofits and businesses such as Mission Hospitals, the Wachovia Foundation, the Mills Family Foundation, RBC Bank and the Mortgage Brokers Association have contributed more than $18,000 to mitigate the shortfall. Best of all, the state has pledged to make up the remainder, thanks to its recent settlement with mortgage lender Countrywide.

Under its agreement with the N.C. Office of the Commissioner of Banks, Countrywide has pledged $2 million to 26 nonprofits in the state, including OnTrack, that provide foreclosure prevention counseling. The pledge comes on top of Countrywide’s agreement to refund $11.5 million to 4,800 homeowners that the banking commissioner says were overcharged by the mortgage lender.

“OnTrack’s 2008-09 housing counseling funding is secure, and we will not have to cut staff or reduce our services to Western North Carolina,” Collins says. “We’re very excited about the possibilities ahead of us. This unprecedented economic and housing crisis is the time for us to do all that we can to serve the people of Western North Carolina.”

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