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Congresswoman Karen Bass at the "Help and Hope" Town Hall and Resource Fair in Los Angeles

With thousands of Southern Californians still weathering a tough economy, U. S. Representative Karen Bass held a “Help and Hope Town Hall and Resource Fair” Saturday January 26, at the Crenshaw Christian Center that provided information on jobs, education, healthcare, and home ownership. She was joined by Chairman of the Fourth District California State Board of Equalization Jerome Horton, who talked about several tax credits available to homeowners.

 Bass, who had just arrived from Washington, D. C., discussed a number of issues, including the recent rash of school shootings. “I think it’s important to address mass shootings, but we must also address the daily shootings in our community because our community continues to be exposed to consistent levels of violence,” she pointed out. “I was just informed that the Board of Education approved 1,000 new staff members to be dispatched to 900 schools whose focus will be to increase safety on the school campuses.”

Bass also talked about how several Republicans in the House are in support of cutting social services. “There’s no legitimate reason that Medicare, Medical or Social Security should be cut,” she pointed out. “Paul Ryan wants to give you a voucher for Medicare and give you a $6,000 check.  They want to take Medicaid and make it into a block grant. That’s what the fight in congress is about—the collision of two different worlds—there’s definitely a difference in philosophy and ideology.”

Bass said she also plans to work with the congressional session to expand the health workforce and work on the Affordable Care Act.

Bass also said she plans to examine the drug sentencing laws. “I want to change and reduce some of the sentencing,” she said.

As a member of the Intellectual Property committee, Bass said she also wants to spread awareness that there are “good paying jobs” in television and movies. I also want to make sure I protect the film industry so that they don’t leave the area,” she said.

The congresswoman also said that she is focusing on Africa to determine how a business partnership can be formed between her constituents and African-owned businesses. “There are 54 countries on the continent. I want to explore how we can link up with African nations to provide job and business opportunities,” she pointed out.

“I need you to tell me where and how you need me to represent you,” said Bass, who now resides over the newly redistricted 37th district. “We will need your guidance and input.”

Horton outlined several available tax credits that can help potential homeowners purchase a home. “Mortgage tax credits will allow you to include an exemption. You can include these deductions and increase your income. There are also property tax credits available called Property 99, which can defer your property tax. There is also the earning income tax credit. A billion dollars goes uncollected every year because homeowners are not applying for earned tax credit, which is available for homeowners who make at least $51,000 a year,” he pointed out.

Esther Cadavid, the senior executive vice president of Neighborhood Housing Services, said that there is new protection for homeowners with the Homeowner’s Bill of Rights that was signed by California attorney general Kamala Harris and became effective on Jan. 1, 2013.   

California has been the “epicenter” of the foreclosure crisis, and the Bill of Rights will offer protection for homeowners by bringing accountability and transparency to the state’s foreclosure crisis. The bill will include a ban on dual tracking in which the lender gives the illusion of working with the homeowner to secure a modification but is actually foreclosing on the home. The bill also states that mortgage services will be required to designate a “single point of contact” for borrowers who are potentially eligible for a loan modification.  

At the CCC Fellowship Center, dozens of homeowners were anxiously waiting to speak to HUD certified counselors to receive assistance with their mortgages and home loans.

“I got laid off my job in 2007,” said Anna Spears. “Then I got behind in my mortgage payments. So far, I’ve been fortunate in terms of the bank not selling my house, but it hasn’t been easy.”

Shirley Smith, a homeowner for 41 years, said that she ran into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service several years ago which caused her to fall behind in her mortgage payments. “My initial home lender was World Savings, but my interest rates kept going up every month,” said Smith, an attorney.  “I finally realized I had been left with a bad loan and the bank had no interest in trying to help me.”

Homeowner Lilly Samuels said that attempting to acquire a home modification loan had so far been a frustrating experience. “I’ve been trying for about 10 months to get a modification,” she said. “The banks are very difficult to work with. They tell you to fax your information in and then two or three days later, they call you and say they didn’t get your paperwork.” Pausing, she added, “I know people at my church who lost their homes. I think they target homeowners in our community with loans they don’t understand. Then they make it difficult for a homeowner to get a loan modification in the hope that they’ll give up and walk away from saving their home.”

Daaniesha Smith, community outreach manager with the Los Angeles County of Consumer Affairs, an agency that investigates real estate fraud, also warned attendees to be wary of scammers and predatory lenders who promise to “solve” homeowners’ financial problems. “Anyone asking for money up front is not legitimate,” she said. “These scammers are convincing and conniving. They will go so far as to obtain paperwork from your bank and make false documents on their home computer to fool homeowners into thinking they are legitimate. Then they will continue to ask the homeowners for monthly fees.”

Smith said her agency receives hundreds of complaints each year from homeowners who have been duped by scammers and attorneys who cause them to lose their homes. “Sometimes, the homeowner only knows the perpetrator’s first name and a cell phone number which is immediately disconnected after the homeowner is scammed,” she pointed out.  “If this happens, homeowners should file a civil lawsuit for damages and they can also go to the state bar website to contact an attorney.” Smith said that predatory lenders are rampant.  “Ironically, many of these scammers take the money and run and are never caught,” she said.

Cadavid warned homeowners about attempting to complete home loan modification forms without help. “There is a lot of paperwork involved. One little mistake, and your paperwork gets thrown out,” she said. “There are HUD certified counseling agencies throughout Los Angeles that will make sure your loan modification package is complete.” Cadavid also warned about predatory lenders. “I would tell homeowners to beware of companies that promise they can make you a loan modification because that is false information.”

Despite the sluggish economy, Cadavid said purchasing a home has never been easier. “Now is a great opportunity to buy,” she pointed out. “Regardless of your income, if you have a little bit of savings and decent credit, you might be able to afford a home because interest rates are low and government subsidies are available.”  Cadavid said that the Neighborhood Stabilization Program will offer down payment assistance to first time homeowners until June 2013.

Herb Schultz, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hosted “The Affordable Care Act and You” seminar in which affordable health insurance will be available starting on January 1, 2014.

“For the first time, four million Californians and up to 30 million citizens nationwide will be able to acquire affordable quality health insurance,” said Schultz, who said the bill was signed by President Barack Obama in March 2010. “A single application will apply to Medical and Medicaid recipients, small businesses, individuals and families. Recipients will no longer be charged out of pocket and insurance companies cannot drop you when you get sick,” said Schultz. “People will be able to sign up for health insurance beginning on Oct. 1, 2013.”

Schultz said information on the Affordable Care Act can be obtained at www. healthcare.gov. 

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