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Foreclosure Prevention Program Questioned By County Supervisor

USA HELP Inc., run by former Norco Mayor Chris Sorensen, is in its third year of providing assistance to county residents seeking guidance on refinancing and other means of avoiding defaulting on their mortgages.

The effectiveness of a program to educate financially distressed Riverside County homeowners about how to prevent foreclosure was
questioned today by a supervisor who said details about the program were "lacking,'' leading to promises of greater transparency.

USA HELP Inc., run by former Norco Mayor Chris Sorensen, is in its third year of providing assistance to county residents seeking guidance on refinancing and other means of avoiding defaulting on their mortgages.

A report on the nonprofit organization's efforts was presented to the
Board of Supervisors today. Supervisor John Benoit had requested the report in early October, before joining his colleagues in unanimously approving a $125,000 contract with USA HELP to continue providing free classes to residents in the unincorporated communities.

Benoit today voiced his displeasure over the time it took to bring the
report to the board and said the eight-page document was short on specifics, leaving unanswered questions about how many residents were actually benefiting from the program.

"The report is lacking in detail,'' the supervisor said. "It spends a lot of time talking about how serious the area has been impacted (by the real estate market meltdown). But you don't keep dates on how many people attended classes, or the percentage of people who were assisted.''

Benoit said he had not heard of Sorensen spending much time in the
Coachella Valley.

"If the program is valuable, we don't want to not continue it for lack
of basic reporting about the services being provided,'' the supervisor said. "My concern is, how do I justify this to constituent taxpayers?''

Sorensen said his two-person staff, which includes himself, was not
always able to keep track of the number of attendees because of how the seminars are arranged. Some people, he said, preferred not to place their names on sign-in sheets. Sorensen estimated an average of 35 people attend each of the 2 1/2 classes he hosts every month.

According to the longtime loan servicer, who now devotes himself full-time to the nonprofit business, some residents solicit his support via the USA HELP website, http://www.freehomeownershiphelp.org/, which further complicates
tracking. According to Sorensen, the site had recorded 66,391 unique visits in the last two years.

Two county residents -- Russ and Marsha Bell -- told the board that a
lunchtime chat with Sorensen had empowered them greatly in their quest to obtain a loan modification and prevent their residence from being repossessed.

"Chris has got us on the right track,'' Russ Bell said. "We have hope
now.''

The Bells are among 130,000 county residents "upside-down'' on their mortgages, or owing more than the homes are worth in the wake of plummeting property values, Sorensen said.

He told Benoit he could easily go back and document each class he's held.

The supervisor said future reports must list meetings, dates and times
to show the program is "effective and helpful.''

Sorensen's contract is administered through the county Economic Development Agency, and EDA spokesman Emilio Ramirez said the next report, to be completed in May, will contain all the details Benoit wanted. --City News Service

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