• <p>As part of an informational video, Karen Wheeler of Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler discusses economic hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courier screenshot via Facebook)  </p>

    As part of an informational video, Karen Wheeler of Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler discusses economic hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courier screenshot via Facebook)

Catholic Charities agency helps homeowners find mortgage relief

Mike Latona/Catholic Courier    |    06.25.2020
Category: Features


For folks whose budgets have become strapped due to the coronavirus pandemic, the challenge to keep pace with mortgage obligations can be considerable.

However, a number of mortgage-relief alternatives are currently available, and social service agencies across the Diocese of Rochester are on hand to help homeowners explore their options.

One such resource is Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler, which offers free housing-counseling services in Chemung, Schuyler, Tompkins and Tioga counties. According to Karen Wheeler, a counselor with the agency who is certified through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Catholic Charities can assist people who might be eligible for temporary mortgage relief depending on their lenders and type of mortgages.

Provisions for relief are laid out in Section 4022 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by Congress this past March 27. CARES provides for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions on federally backed mortgages from such agencies as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Housing Administration and U. S. Department of Agriculture. Although the moratorium was originally set to expire May 17, several lenders have extended that deadline through at least June 30, with the deadline for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA single-family mortgages now reset to Aug. 31.

Also through the CARES Act, a borrower has a right to request forbearance — a delay of full mortgage payments without incurring additional fees, penalties or interest — for up to 180 days on federally sponsored mortgages.

Most, but not all, mortgages are federally backed and thus eligible for relief through the CARES Act. However, Wheeler emphasized, “Even if you don’t have a federally backed mortgage, I would encourage people to contact their lender and see what can be done.” She said that most local and national lenders have plans in place — regardless of the type of mortgage — for people affected by job loss and other financial struggles related to the COVID-19 crisis. Wheeler cautioned against simply halting payments without contacting a lender, saying, “Reach out for help at the first sign of trouble. It’s a lot easier to get a solution at that point than several months down the road.”

Wheeler noted that Catholic Charities can lend assistance at no cost by serving as a mediator between borrowers and lenders; helping homeowners navigate through potentially confusing paperwork; providing them with the correct information; assisting them in determining the best course of action for avoiding foreclosure and rebuilding financial solvency; and referring them to other Catholic Charities services if necessary. (Wheeler can be reached at 607-734-9784, ext. 2132, or Karen.Wheeler@dor.org.)

Wheeler also observed that Catholic Charities can provide moral support — hearing folks’ stories and helping them through a process that can be “very unnerving,” especially when blended with other stressors brought on by the pandemic.

“People don’t have savings, nobody was prepared for it. It’s a very traumatic time for a lot of people,” she said. “Maybe you don’t see things clearly, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and you don’t have to do it alone.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler only offers housing counseling in a four-county area, click here and here for similar services available in all parts of the Rochester Diocese and New York state.

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