Post services help homebuyers, renters
October 30, 2009
- Soldiers reporting to post must visit Housing Services Officer before obtaining off post lodgings
- The housing office offers information on high-crime areas, schools, housing areas
- Families facing foreclosure, or looking to buy a home, can visit ACS, legal assistance, for information and advice
Fort Benning, Ga. - Before you sign on the dotted line, whether it's to buy a house or rent an apartment, make sure you've taken the right steps to get there, urges Ann Pratcher, financial readiness program manager for Fort Benning's Army Community Services.
Knowledge is key to avoiding the pitfalls of renting an apartment in a crime-ridden area or buying a home you can't afford, she said.
For Soldiers reporting to Fort Benning, their orders require them to go to the Housing Services Office if they are considering renting or purchasing housing off post.
"It's a requirement that a lot of people skip," Pratcher said. "And that's one of the ways they get into problems with their leases."
The housing office is a member of the Columbus Apartment Association. Housing office personnel can advise Soldiers and families on house and apartment hunting, leases, rental agencies, real estate agents, lenders and other things to help get them started, according to its Web site at http://fortbenninghousing.com.
Aside from information available at the Housing Services Office, Soldiers can seek help with tenant complaints, find out about high-crime areas and get transportation to look at listings, which is valuable to Soldiers coming from overseas who are waiting on their vehicles to arrive, said Pat Burns, housing referral manager.
"One of the bigger situations we help with is when a renter finds out the owner of the home is being foreclosed on," she said. "When the renter gets notice, we help them find another place to live."
For outprocessing Soldiers or those who've bought a home and are having trouble selling or are facing foreclosure, the Housing Services Office provides information on programs and services available to them.
But the housing office is not the only avenue available to Soldiers who need help.
Fort Benning's Legal Assistance Office advises Soldier-homeowners of their rights and legal options if they are struggling to pay their mortgage or are entering foreclosure.
"It can be overwhelming," said Laurel Wilkerson, chief of legal assistance. "To know you've bought a home thinking it was a sound investment and, with the crash in the housing market, all of the sudden being upside down on your mortgage. We try to find out what they're facing and walk them through it."
Wilkerson said the office handles each case to meet the needs of the Soldier and family according to their situation.
"For Soldiers who are struggling to pay their mortgage, there are a couple of approaches," she said. "They can go to ACS for financial counseling to see how to streamline their expenses in order to keep the property, or they can look at refinancing to a lower rate through the lender if they are upside down on the mortgage. Interest rates are historically low right now so it may be a good opportunity to refinance so they can hang onto the property until they can sell it."
Wilkerson acknowledged there's no one-size-fits-all solution for homeowners but in many cases relief is available.
Among other programs designed to help Soldiers who meet certain criteria, are the Housing Assistance Program, Home Affordable Refinance Program, Housing Assistance Modification Program and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Additional resources can be found at www.homeaffordable.gov.
Pratcher said Soldiers struggling to sell or pay for their home should visit the housing office, financial readiness or legal assistance as a place to start to get help.
"Sometimes the choices are difficult ones," Pratcher said. "There may be things you have to work through but there are people who will help you through the process."