Thanks to an outpouring of community support, Helen Sinclair, also known as “Queen Mother,” was able to stay in her Bronzeville home. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

MITCHELL: Longtime activist gets to stay in her Bronzeville home

SHARE MITCHELL: Longtime activist gets to stay in her Bronzeville home
SHARE MITCHELL: Longtime activist gets to stay in her Bronzeville home

Things have worked out for Queen Mother Helen Sinclair.

The 97-year-old woman will be able to stay in her Bronzeville home — thanks to an Obama-era mortgage assistance program offered through the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

I wrote about Sinclair’s plight in May.

At that time, the elderly woman was fighting a bank foreclosure on the home she has lived in since childhood.


Sinclair had gotten a reverse mortgage on her home five years ago. She apparently was not aware that the bank could foreclose on that mortgage if she failed to pay the property taxes and insurance.

“You die and they get the house. Nowhere did it say I would owe them,” Sinclair told me in May.

Sinclair said she had worked out a “repayment agreement” with the lender, Wells Fargo, for the delinquent property tax and insurance payments.

But the bank moved to foreclose on the property in April. After Sinclair went public, Wells Fargo postponed the foreclosure sale.

When representatives of the Illinois Housing Development Authority learned about Sinclair’s situation, they jumped in.

Last year, the federal government allocated $269 million in funding to IHDA for the “Hardest Hit Fund Program” that provides assistance to families in states hit hard by the economic and housing market downturn.

“We were able to launch a couple of programs, one of which is a reverse mortgage assistance program to help seniors like Ms. Sinclair,” said Peter Sellke, director of the “Hardest Hit Fund” program.

The fund also provides down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, and refinance assistance for underwater homeowners.

Sinclair learned the hard way that while a reverse mortgage might be a good deal for seniors, it is also a complicated lending tool.

“A lot of seniors don’t know they are still required to pay real estate taxes and that it is not escrowed, but comes out of their pockets,” Sellke said.

Seniors who appeal their property taxes, like Sinclair did, might also get confused.

“They don’t realize they still have to pay their real estate taxes and that might mean they end up with a lien on the reverse mortgage,” said Andrew Field, a spokesman for IHDA.

When Field saw the article about Sinclair, he contacted her and encouraged her to apply for the “Illinois Hardest Hit Program” program.

“She came into the office, and we helped her fill out the online application. This is a fantastic program. It offers up to $35,000 to seniors who have an FHA reverse mortgage,” Sellke said.

Sinclair’s case was also complicated because she has used all of her home’s equity.

“But even if you are not getting any money, you are still required to pay the property taxes and maintenance to stay in the home,” Sellke explained.

IHDA paid Sinclair’s past due property taxes.

“We also sent two years’ worth of property taxes to the mortgage servicer for payment of property taxes going forward. So now there’s a pot of money that the mortgage server can take from. She will be staying in her home and doesn’t have to worry about foreclosure,” he said.

Hopefully, that will indeed be the case.

One thing for sure is that Sinclair has helped raise public awareness about this issue.

If you are a homeowner and think you qualify for this program, don’t wait another day to apply.

“It’s first come, first served, and is free to apply. Once the funds are gone they are gone unless Congress allocates more. People might think it is too good to be true, but this is federal money to help people stay in their homes,” Sellke said.

To learn more, visit the Illinois Hardest Hit Program

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