Mortgage woes No job Agencies aid hard-hit Jews

Local Jewish social service agencies are finding that calls for financial aid are on a sharp rise as the national and state economies continue to falter. But that doesn’t surprise them, since 30 percent of the Bay Area’s Jewish community is at or near the regional poverty level, according to a demographic study by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

“We have definitely seen an increase in people with financial problems,” said Anita Friedman, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services. “Related to foreclosures, loss of jobs, economic recession, the combination of factors is very difficult on low-income families.”

Friedman said the number of financial assistance cases her agency has taken on has increased 30 percent in the past year, and the increase, coupled with cuts in government funding, is creating a crisis for JFCS.

“We don’t want to turn people away who need help, so we’re stepping up fundraising,” said Friedman, noting that the biggest fundraising challenge is raising awareness about the number of people living in poverty in the Bay Area.

Poverty in the Bay Area is defined in a 2004 study as annual income of $30,000 or less for a family of three, putting 10 percent of local Jews in that category. But the same study said $77,069 is needed for a family of four to meet basic needs in the Bay Area, and that about 30 percent of local Jewish families annually earn $50,000 or less.

JFCS financial aid director Eric Singer says the money available to lend out is limited relative to what people in a serious foreclosure crisis need, but that JFCS can still assist people.

“There was a woman we helped recently who was just two months behind,” said Singer of a $3,000 no-interest loan that prevented the woman from going into foreclosure. Singer says JFCS can potentially be of assistance in the $3,000 to $10,000 range.

“If people aren’t sure, they should call. Sometimes people just need advice as much as money,” Singer adds.

JFCS East Bay Executive Director Avi Rose agreed.

“We disperse limited financial assistance, but also try to offer counseling to help people find other resources,” says Rose.

The Hebrew Free Loan Association is one of the community’s other resources that works to help those in need by offering interest-free loans.

“Calls are on the increase due to the fragility of the economy in general, so we’re definitely hearing it,” said Ed Cushman, executive director of HFLA’s San Francisco office. While the loans generally require either collateral or a co-signer, Cushman says the agency is always interested in helping people any way that they can.

“We have one particular loan program for recently unemployed people where they receive a monthly loan amount from us, where the payments are deferred until they get another job … which can help forestall losing home loans,” Cushman said.

Home foreclosures in the Bay Area and statewide have quadrupled over the past 12 months, according to DataQuick Information Systems, which monitors real estate activity nationwide.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) has co-authored legislation that seeks to establish minimum national licensing and oversight standards for the nation’s mortgage lenders, and would create a national database for consumers to use to verify the credentials of brokers and lenders. The bill was included in housing reform and foreclosure prevention legislation approved in committee May 20. It is now up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring it to the floor for a vote.

For details on where to call for help, contact Jewish Community Information & Referral at (415) 777-4545 or (877) 777-5247.