With nearly 1,000 homes in foreclosure, Austin has the highest foreclosure rates in the city. And in an effort to reverse that trend, the Westside Ministers Coalition has collaborated with Citibank to help at-risk homeowners keep their homes.

The two entities will hold a borrowers’ outreach day on Friday, May 15, where Austin-area homeowners in the 60644 and 60639 zip codes, and with Citibank-backed mortgages, can work with the financial institution to modify their mortgages. The event is from 2 to 8 p.m. at T.L.C. Ministries, 4146 W. Chicago Ave.

Although targeted to Citi mortgage holders, anyone seeking information on foreclosure prevention can attend. Several bilingual foreclosure prevention workshops are also scheduled. Additionally, counselors from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be on hand to discuss eligibility for President Barack Obama’s $275 billion housing recovery plan. Homeowners most at-risk of foreclosure can modify their loans, via the plan, to no more than 31 percent of their income.

Otis Monroe, of the Monroe Foundation, which provides technical assistance to start-up businesses, said the effort is to help stabilize communities by catching at-risk homeowners “on the front end” before they become victims of predatory lenders or foreclosure scams.

“We are trying to have something that is proactive and that allows people to know their options – people need help,” he insists. “They need to know what their legitimate options are.”

The Monroe Foundation, the Spanish Coalition for Housing, and Nobel Neighbors are co-facilitators for the event. Monroe also noted the event highlights a need to establish a housing resource center in Austin, which currently doesn’t exist in the community.

“The Austin community has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the City of Chicago and it needs to have a housing resource center with HUD-certified counselors dedicated to addressing housing, community development and preservation needs.”

Friday’s borrower outreach day is part of the Citibank’s larger national foreclosure-prevention effort, noted Mark Rodgers, the financial institution’s vice president of public affairs.

“It does not benefit us as a lender … to foreclose on homeowners,” he said. “It is an expensive process for us. It certainly does not help the homeowner. Our objective is to try to keep people in their homes, because we believe that is the best solution.”

Citibank has several programs to help those behind on payments, like its unemployment assistance program where recently unemployed homeowners can have their mortgages reduced as low as $500 a month for up to three months.

Rev. Lewis Flowers, chair of the Westside Minister Coalition, wished more banks would be as proactive as Citibank and partner with local organizations to identify those at-risk of foreclosure, which, he says, effects more than just the person losing their home. Communities with abandoned buildings attracts criminal activity, Flowers noted.

He said his group met with other banks that promised to help with foreclosures prevention, but nothing on the scale as Citibank.

Moratoriums, Monroe added, serve a purpose, but they do not keep people in their homes. He said Citibank went a step further by developing a product to help residents stay in their homes and to provide assistance to those without a Citi-backed mortgage.

“The Westside is a pilot program. If this program works well as we anticipate then (the next step) is to take this initiative to the south side,” Monroe said.

For more information, contact the Westside Ministers Coalition: 773-261-0207.