The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says that its staff of certified counselors approved to discuss the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program with clients is at its current level of capacity, though potential growth in the business sector has opened the Department up to the possibility of expanding such ranks in the future.
HUD is also aware of certain counseling issues at the state level that have interacted with the reverse mortgage program, including the recent disruption of reverse mortgage business in the state of Massachusetts related to a legislative prohibition on remote counseling.
This is according to HUD officials offering perspective on approved counseling agencies in a call with reporters on Monday morning. The officials also detailed that $51.4 million in grants have been awarded to 177 HUD-approved counseling agencies, designed to support vulnerable communities, communities of color and Americans who continue to be negatively impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Additional funding will also be made available in the form of grants to support the training of new reverse mortgage counselors.
Reverse mortgage counseling capacity
When asked by RMD about the availability of HUD-approved counselors to meet the current levels of demand in certain states, the Office of Housing Counseling said that its corps of dedicated reverse mortgage counselors is currently at capacity, which should make the availability of such counseling sessions easier for those seeking reverse mortgage counseling. This is according to David Berenbaum, the deputy assistant secretary in HUD’s Office of Housing Counseling.
“First on the point of availability of counselors under federal requirements, I’m happy to report that the number of HUD-certified housing counselors – particularly those in the reverse mortgage space – is at 100%,” Berenbaum said in response to RMD’s query. “So, availability nationwide of counselors in that space is excellent at this time, and we hope actually to grow that number because we do [see] future growth in the reverse mortgage program and products that are available to consumers.”
In regards to the current counseling issues playing out in the state of Massachusetts, Berenbaum said that counseling providers on the ground in that state did reach out to HUD directly to offer perspective on the issues facing the business there, and that additional information on both how the counseling works and is overseen can help to provide a path to additional clarity for those unsure.
Issues in Mass. and how they interact with remote counseling
Berenbaum also described that while HUD has not taken a specific position on the law in Massachusetts that restricts remote counseling under normal circumstances, the pandemic has provided a look at the “new normal” as it pertains to remote counseling.
“We have been supporting our counseling groups locally in Massachusetts and elsewhere, to try to provide sound information on how housing counseling is provided and how it is regulated,” he said. “We do firmly believe that counseling provided on a basis which may involve virtual counseling or telephonic counseling has become rather the norm across the country and frankly, there are many associated online [and] educational tools that consumers benefit [from] in that process.”
Ideally, counseling – including for reverse mortgages – involving direct contact between the client and the counselor should be a focus, but remaining mindful of circumstances in which such a requirement would be an impediment or hindrance is important to keep in mind, Berenbaum said.
“I applaud the focus on face-to-face counseling but in our day and age, in fact, it can be provided in multiple modalities,” he said. “We have not taken a position with regard to what has been required in Massachusetts, but we are trying to support our counseling organizations to ensure the availability of the program.”
New grant disbursements
For the $51.4 million in grants issued to 177 HUD-approved counseling agencies, this includes funding to agencies partnered with Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), or other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).
In addition to aiming assistance at those impacted broadly by the pandemic, the additional funding will specifically work to assist families with foreclosure and rental eviction prevention, as well as funding to advance training and education to attract and retain more housing counseling professionals.
“Whether a family is seeking affordable rental housing, buying their first home, or struggling to stay in current housing, now more than ever, housing counselors are supporting families’ housing needs,” said HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge in a statement accompanying the funding announcement. “We are pleased to announce these grants to 177 HUD-approved housing counseling agencies across the country to support their work and continue HUD’s mission to ensure every American has access to safe, stable housing.”
A vast majority of the total awarded figure – $49.4 million – will go to support services provided by local, regional, national and multi-state HUD-approved counseling agencies, as well as state housing finance agencies, according to HUD. $3 million of total funding figure is going to 16 HUD-approved housing counseling agencies that are partnering with HBCUs, HSIs, or other MSIs, in order to “expand these institutions’ roles and effectiveness in addressing the needs of their local communities and further their partnerships with housing counseling agencies,” the Department said.
An additional $2 million was also awarded under HUD’s fiscal year 2021 Housing Counseling Training Notice of Funding Opportunity (TNOFO) published on November 2, 2021, which will go toward grants that support education and training of housing counselors including those dedicated to the reverse mortgage category.
“The TNOFO includes training on how to provide counseling for seniors seeking Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), and training on HUD’s housing counselor certification exam,” HUD said in its announcement of the funding. “HUD is awarding $300,000 of the $2 million to recipient organizations that will issue training scholarships to students of HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other MSIs enrolled in a housing counseling workforce development program.”
Read the funding announcement at HUD.