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Foreclosure assistance is now just a phone call away in the city of Detroit, which has been plagued by an increase in foreclosures frequently triggered by fraud and abusive lending tactics.

In a partnership with local mortgage lenders, banks and non-profit agencies, Detroit recently created the Detroit-Home Ownership Preservation Enterprise (Detroit-HOPE) to provide counseling through the Credit Counseling Resource Center.

Detroit home owners who have begun to default, or are in danger of defaulting on their mortgage can call 888-995-HOPE (4673) 24-hours a day, everyday, and receive confidential mortgage foreclosure prevention counseling.

The program is not an alternative to working with the lender holding the loan, but an adjunct to services lenders also offer. The counseling services focus on private mortgage foreclosure and not tax-related foreclosure.

"A critical component in improving our city's financial health is improving the financial health of Detroit's citizens. It is a part of our role as public servants to empower the citizens we serve -- whenever and however we can," said Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick.

The city's downtown revival has spurred development of 7,400 homes, many of them residential lofts, with an additional 3,000 planned for a Far Eastside project. The $2 billion redevelopment of the city's riverfront also includes a housing component.

In recent years, redevelopment has attracted swarms of fraudulent activity among criminals looking to cash in on the city's about-face in the urban housing sector. Detroit-area home prices have risen nearly 26 percent in the last five years, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprse Oversight, and crooks are looking to cash in on the higher values, boosted, in part, by the city's redevelopment efforts.

The U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, Committee on Financial Services, the Mortgage Asset Research Institute, Inc. and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, among other organizations, have all pointed to high rates of mortgage and appraisal fraud in the Southeast and Midwest, including Detroit and other urban cities with high levels of rehabilitation.

It's not uncommon in older, deteriorated neighborhoods on the rebound, to find the practice of "property flipping" -- buying and then quickly reselling properties after their values have been over inflated.

Another Detroit public service educational campaign, "Don't Borrow Trouble" dates back to 2001 when abusive lending tactics coincided with the growth of home ownership in the Motor City.

Mortgage fraud, appraisal fixing and other questionable activities often leave the home owner holding the bag -- and a notice of foreclosure.

With a $50,000 donation from a Detroit-HOPE partner, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, the goal is to reduce foreclosures by working with home owners as early in the process as possible.

Residents who call for assistance will receive a free counseling session to address their immediate needs. After the initial counseling session, the home owner will receive a written action plan discussed during the session. In addition, the foreclosure prevention counseling service will coordinate or facilitate communication between the home owner and his or her mortgage lender or servicer.

A similar program in Chicago, IL kept 28 percent of home owners who received counseling out of foreclosure and another 20 percent moved from inactive communication status with their lender or servicer to an active communication status.

Communicating with the lender is a key step on the path away from foreclosure, experts agree.

"Everyone we've worked with sees the value in this early intervention, which will keep families in their houses and help to stabilize Detroit neighborhoods," said Alan Levy, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Commercial Revitalization.

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