Asian-Language Hotline Brings Housing Foreclosure Info to a Mobile Near You

Posted by CorinneRamey on Nov 09, 2007

Understanding a housing mortgage isn't easy, especially within today's so-called subprime mortgages filled with legalese, deceptive interest rates and dishonest brokers. Having English as a second language doesn't make it any easier. Jeremy Liu and Tad Hirsch, the developers of Speakeasy, are using mobile phones to help non-English speakers fight the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States with an Asian-language specific foreclosure prevention hotline. MobileActive interviewed Liu for more information on this still-developing project.

Liu and Hirsch have developed a hotline that will connect Asian-language speakers faced with foreclosure or subprime mortgages with information in their native languages. Liu said that although similar hotlines exist in Spanish, there is no language-specific hotline for Asian languages. This leads to an information gap for Asian homeowners with subprime mortgages, many of whom don't know where to turn for foreclosure prevention assistance.

The foreclosure hotline is a collaborative effort, bringing together existing organizations -- such as the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development -- that provide social services to the Asian community. In the future Liu and Hirsch also hope to involve other social service providers like munincipalitites, hospitals and institutional networks. The hotline will offer foreclosure counseling to people who speak Asian languages throughout the U.S. Liu said that they plan to start with a pilot in Chinese and then hopefully move to other languages, including Vietnamese and Korean. The hotline will be advertised through existing Asian social service agencies.

Liu said that he has great hopes for the system because it will function at an enterprise level. Instead of starting from scratch, he said that the system will integrate with an already existing network of community development organizations, NeighborWorks American. NeighborWorks is a network of over 240 community organizations that has a "hopeline" that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. According to Liu, the "hopeline" receives about 2,000 calls each day. He estimates, based on the amount of people with Asian last names that have subprime mortgages, that the Asian foreclosure hotline would receive between 100 and 200 calls each day.

Hirsch and Liu are no strangers to Asian language hotlines. The pair started Speakeasy, a project of the Asian Community Development Corporation in Boston, which was a voice-over-IP hotline that helped connect Asian-language speakers with interpreters and social services. Unlike Speakeasy, the foreclosure hotline will be able to access a wider network of potential interpreters and people with foreclosure experience because it will function at an enterprise level. "One of the big benefits we've seen in the network system is the supply of interpreter question -- that was always one of our potential concerns for Speakeasy on a grassroots level," he said. This project taps into a larger network of interpreters and connects interpreters with a variety of experience of foreclosure counseling.

Liu said that the system will have a basic database of available interpreters. When someone calls the hotline, the system then connects the caller to an interpreter based on experience. According to Liu, the system would give preference to same-language interpreters with experience in foreclosure counseling and who were in the same region. Second preference would go to someone with foreclosure experience in a different region, and the system would then connect callers to interpreters with various levels of experience.

Liu said that a calling center that contacts a distributed network of interpreters on their mobile phones will allow them to be available at all times, not just when they're sitting at a desk working for one of the community development organizations. "They will allow the staff who are providing the service to be more flexible," he said. The times when staff are available to be "on call" will be entered into a database. Mobile phones allow for staff time to be used more efficiently, because staff who already work for social service or community organizations can be contacted even when not in the office.

"People have a hard time asking for this kind of help," Liu said. He has hopes that the system will not only make people more likely to ask for foreclosure assistance but will increase the quality and access to foreclosure information for the Asian-speaking community.

Request for contact info of the subject

Hi, my name is Joshua An, and I am a housing counselor from Korean Churches for Community Development (KCCD).  I would like to know how I can help developing such language specific tools to help Asian homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure.

KCCD is a non-profit housing counseling agency approved by HUD to provide free foreclosure prevention counseling services.  KCCD is one of few agencies that provides the services in Korean and English in the nation. KCCD housing counselors, including myself, have been trained by NeighborWorks America over 60 hours on foreclosure mitigation counselings.

I am well aware of the fact that there are not that many, if not at all, resources available in Asian languages in terms of foreclosure prevention assistance.  Many people are aware of the recently introduced Making Home Affordable Program, or aka Obama Plan, and other programs, but not that many people who does not understand English well don't really understand what the program is about and how they can benefit from the program.

I would like to find out if we can help the two individuals from Speakeasy to develop such mobile tool to help out our community.  Also we've been doing this work since Oct 2007 when the mortgage crisis first begin in current era. If someone can provide the contact information of the people in the article, I would greatly appreciated.  

Thank you,

Jeremy Liu contact info

Hi, Josh - Jeremy is no longer the ED of the organization but a special advisor and I do not have his current contact info.  I sent you an email ditrectly, however!  Hope you can find out more -- the project is more than two years old, so not sure it's still operational.  The software is, however, open-source, as far as I know, so you might be able to use it or another IVR software to do something similar for your organization.

Good luck!

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