A housing crisis could be looming in Galveston County, experts warn, as banks and lenders start to collect on mortgages that have not been paid since Hurricane Harvey.
In the immediate aftermath of storms, some mortgage lenders sent out notices to homeowners, giving them a chance to enter a grace period — known as forbearance — when they’re not obligated to make their monthly payments. It’s an action that’s typical after disasters like Harvey, and one that’s meant to ease the burden on people who are in the midst of disaster.
Those forbearance periods typically end after 90 days. Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25. Its rains reached the Houston and Galveston region about two days later. Thanksgiving week marked the beginning of the 90-day period since the storm hit.
As the bills come due, some people might realize they hadn’t thought of all the details about the document they signed, said Amir Befroui, the managing attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid’s Foreclosure Prevention Project, which tries to help low-income people who are dealing with threats of foreclosure.
“A 90-day pause on the mortgage is kind of like pennies from heaven, but a lot of lenders don’t have very clear procedures on how to get caught up when 90 days is up,” Befroui said.
That could mean that foreclosure issues could begin rising in mid- to late December, Befroui said.
There is some evidence that mortgages will be a problem in Texas.
Since hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas and Florida, delinquent mortgages have risen by 24 percent in those states, according to Black Knight, an analytics firm that monitors homeownership trends.
The numbers of loans past due or in foreclosure in Texas has risen by 30 percent over the past six months, according to the firm. Some 66,000 past-due mortgages can be attributed to Harvey, according to the firm.
Some people are struggling to pay for repair of their flooded homes and make mortgage payments. Others are struggling to pay mortgages on top of rent for temporary housing as they repair homes.
It’s unclear how expansive foreclosures will be in the Galveston County area, but experts say that people who are already feeling the financial burden of mortgage payments should contact with their lenders to let them know what’s going on.
“The most important thing to do is to communicate,” said Chris Doyle, the president and CEO of Texas First Bank. “Communicate with your bank and any institution that you have debt with and explain to them the situation.”
Doyle said his bank, which is headquartered in Texas City and has locations in six counties affected by Harvey, isn’t overexposed on home mortgages and should be able to weather any issues people might have with paying on time. Community banks often try to work with their customers to resolve issues, he said.
“We are concerned that some of our customers may be going through such a process with another lender, Doyle said.
People with financial concerns should also try to access resources open to them that might help them pay their bills, particularly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, industry observers said.
The deadline to apply for aid from FEMA related to Hurricane Harvey is approaching. People must sign up by Nov. 30. To sign up for FEMA aid, visit disasterassistance.gov or call 800-621-3362.