Since Mats bought a house in Kent four years ago, the value of his home has plummeted $40,000. In the past year and a half, he has only been able to find four months of work. Mats, who did not want his last name used to preserve the privacy of his financial matters, is two months behind on his mortgage.
Unfortunately, Mats' story is not unusual these days. When area unions, whose unemployed ranks have soared in recent years, asked their members about their biggest concerns, housing jumped to the front.
"It was very apparent there was a housing issue," said Shannon Hagen, Political and Special Projects Coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 46. But not only were people having trouble paying their mortgages, many were nearly unable to even get in touch with a loan officer at the bank. Many spent hours getting the runaround in the banks' phone systems, and they seldom were able to speak to the same loan officer twice.
Bank of America (BOA), which owns a large percentage of Washington mortgages after their 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial, does not have a homeownership center, like Chase Bank's Tukwila center. People with BOA mortgages in Washington have had a very difficult time finding someone to even get the adjustment process going.
So Sound Alliance, a group made up of area labor, religious and non-profit organizations, decided to coordinate an event where people could meet face-to-face with loan counselors and bank representatives to help them modify their loans if possible. But this time, the meeting would be on union turf.
"If we can't get our members to the loan servicers, then we need to bring the loan servicers to us," said Hagen, describing the concept behind the August 5 event. Although they invited many banks, only BOA and Chase signed on for the event, which took place at the IBEW hall in Kent. Bank of America even called in loan officers from out-of-state to be available.
By the end of the day, around 80 people had come to the hall for help. First, they had a chance to sit down with a loan counselor and go over their paperwork and get their numbers straight. Then, if their loans were with either Chase or BOA, they could meet with a loan servicer and go over their cases.
"Having lots of things available in one space is important," said Hagen.
Of course, the opportunity did not work out for everyone, and just seeing a loan servicer does not guarantee a positive outcome. One frustrated man walked into the waiting room at one point and announced, "This whole thing is just a show," and left.
Mats, an IBEW member, came to the hall to see if he could get his mortgage payment reduced. But getting a chance to see a loan counselor and a loan servicer is not likely to solve the core of his troubles.
"I need a job that pays $40 an hour," he said. "That will solve all my problems."