Hard times still, but some help

The seven months that have passed since we last spoke have not been particularly kind to Nicholas Illich of Mayfair.

Illich, you may recall, was threatened with foreclosure last summer by OneWest Bank of Pasadena, Calif. He had fallen behind on mortgage payments after a series of misfortunes, including a stroke that prevented him from working.

Illich's wife, Kathleen, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Their daughter, Brooke, has diabetes and no medical insurance.

Their son, Nicholas, was fatally injured at age 20 when he fell from the back of a truck in September 2004.

The family continues to live on $1,700 a month in Social Security benefits.

When we first talked in August, the Illiches had first and second mortgages on the house they bought a decade ago for $73,000.

Unable to meet payments on the 12.5 percent first mortgage and the 8.6 percent second mortgage they took to consolidate debt in 2006, they were three months behind on $128,000 in loans and faced foreclosure.

Today, they are still treading water in a flood of financial despair.

"I was visiting my father [in New Jersey], and our car was rear-ended by a woman who tried to leave the scene of the accident," Illich said. "More doctor's visits."

If there is any positive news, it's that the Illiches are now among the 500,000 Americans who have received trial mortgage modifications from cooperating lenders and loan servicers under the Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification Program.

The first mortgage has been in trial modification since Feb. 1, with the interest rate reduced to 4 percent, "cutting my payments in half," he said. He's made two.

But the second mortgage is still woefully delinquent, Illich said.

"My lawyer says I'd never be able to pay the second loan off," he said. "It's 30 years, and the interest rate is so high."

Although OneWest delayed foreclosing while Illich worked with a counselor from ACORN to get his mortgage modified, the bank filed the papers Dec. 31 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, records show.

Once the documents were filed, however, Illich's case moved automatically to the city's mandatory Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, and a conciliation meeting between his lawyer and the lender's was scheduled for March 11 at City Hall.

As luck would have it, Illich contracted an intestinal virus, so he remained on the sidelines as his lawyer and the lender's attorney discussed the case.

Because a trial modification had been approved and Illich, acknowledging that meeting even reduced monthly payments has been a struggle, has paid his loan successfully for the last two months, Judge Annette Rizzo, who supervises the court's program, allowed the foreclosure action to remain open.

A status conference is scheduled for April 29, when a permanent loan modification will be discussed, according to Ian Phillips, a spokesman for ACORN.

Illich isn't so sure he'll receive a permanent modification. The lender has told him that "making the payments is no guarantee," which is what, housing advocates say, others in Illich's straits are finding.

Meanwhile, Illich tries to make it all work and, at the same time, find affordable medical insurance for his daughter, who is often hospitalized.

"This continues to be really embarrassing for me," Illich said.

Most people sympathize, he said, but there are those who look down on him and "ask me why I deserve help."

"My lawyer said that most people wait till a knock on the door before they do anything. At least I started trying to do something right at the start."


Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing). His home improvement column appears Fridays in Home & Design. "On the House" appears Sundays in The Inquirer. Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

Real Estate Tools
Looking for a new home? Search Philadelphia real estate »
Browse Recent Home Sales »
Compare Philadelphia mortgage rates »