The phones rang off the hook for a few hours Wednesday night at KMEX. The Spanish-language TV station hosted a televised phone-bank for people worried about losing their homes to foreclosure.
The phone bank was part of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s campaign to protect homeowners from foreclosure scams. Maritza Gutierrez was one of about 30 volunteer housing counselors who fielded phone calls nonstop for two hours.
By day, she supervises real estate fraud investigations for the Los County Department of Consumer Affairs. She said plenty of bogus companies accept money up front in exchange for empty promises to beat back foreclosure.
"Latinos and African-Americans, for some reason, they feel that if they pay a company for services, they will actually get what they want," says Gutierrez. "And they really don’t reach out for help and it’s really important for us to let them know: there’s no shame in this game."
Her boss, Rigo Reyes, also worked the phone bank. He said half the calls were from tenants who face eviction from foreclosed homes they’ve rented for years. "They get a phone call from the bank saying 'you need to get out in three days' and how many people, you know, just out of fear, move out and don’t really get the protection that they need."
That protection, he said, includes a 90-day period during which the bank can’t evict a tenant. Reyes' office can often negotiate a cash payment from the bank for tenants who agree to move out. But he said many renters in that situation don’t know their rights.