Habitat for Humanity warns of Ohio foreclosures


CLEVELAND (AP) — Habitat for Humanity plans to foreclose on 25 houses in Cleveland if the homeowners do not respond to warning letters about their overdue mortgage payments.

The Christian nonprofit organization helps build homes for low-income families worldwide. Some of its Cleveland homeowners are more than three years behind in mortgage payments, The Plain Dealer reported.

John Habat, executive director of Habitat’s local chapter, said letters will be sent to those property owners within two weeks telling them with they can do to avoid foreclosure. If they do not respond within 32 days, officials will foreclose on the homes, Habat said.

Habitat for Humanity was among the nation’s largest builders in 2010, when it constructed nearly 4,600 homes, and the group’s foreclosure rate is less than 2 percent nationwide, the newspaper reported. Habitat also has taken foreclosure steps in Florida and Georgia.

Habat said the housing market presents a good opportunity to help low-income families, but people “have to understand the expectations of what homeownership means.”

Deeds to the properties are held by Habitat for Humanity, with homebuyers typically getting a 30-year, no-interest mortgage. They are required to make monthly payments, usually under $500, and must work at least 500 hours on their homes and attend financial literacy and homeownership workshops.

Owners facing foreclosure, on average, are 38 to 40 months behind in payments. They could avoid foreclosure by catching up on payments, challenging their balance or working with a local housing group to redo loan terms, the newspaper reported.

Several families may have stopped making payments because they believe the organization does not foreclose, Habat said.

“This time they’re going to see we’re serious,” he said.

In the past 20 years, Habitat has built 160 homes in the Cleveland area, and it has foreclosed on eight homes there since 2008.

A city councilwoman who represents an area that includes some of the houses threatened with foreclosure is hoping the owners will take action to avoid losing their homes.

“Many of these families were probably waiting for things to turn around, and this time, the turn-around may be to work with Habitat and other services,” Councilwoman Mamie Mitchell said.