El Concilio brings focus to Latino issues

MODESTO -- The housing crisis is taking a toll in the Central Valley, and El Concilio for the Spanish Speaking is doing something about it.

Because of the organization's efforts in helping Latinos who are facing foreclosure, a group of eight delegates took a trip to Washington, D.C., in early March, thanks to funding from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). During their weeklong stay, they met with congressmen Dennis Cardoza and Jerry McNerney to discuss the current housing situation.

"The NCLR had been working on this trip for (the) last five years," said José R. Rodríguez, president and CEO of El Concilio. "We talked to senators and Congress about issues important to us. We needed to go up there and be in their face so they understand that Latinos have issues and concerns about foreclosure, unemployment, education, health and immigration."

Activities during the trip, Rodríguez said, included "debriefing us on job-training programs, health access, social service -- it was a very productive four days."

Eduardo Morales, a HUD certified housing counselor at El Concilio's Modesto office who's certified through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was one of the trip's eight participants.

Morales took part in a panel discussion in which the main focus was the crisis in the housing market and the inconsistencies in information that homeowners often encounter.

"The government needs to know that when we place phone calls to the banks, every single person answering the phone gives us different information or (does) not know how to respond to our questions," said Morales, who explained that El Concilio was invited to the panel because it is a key force in foreclosure prevention.

This was the third consecutive year that Morales went on the trip but the first time the group had the opportunity to talk to the congressmen about issues important to the Latino community.

"The important thing was to advocate for our community -- advocacy is a powerful thing," Morales said. "For me, it was a humble experience to be in Washington and tell them what I thought. It's great to do something for the community."

El Concilio has received funds from the National Council of La Raza for the prevention counseling taking place in the Modesto office.

"We are looking for funding to expand the foreclosure-prevention program to Stockton and (to) get additional training for more staff," Rodríguez said.

People from San Joaquín County are free to make an appointment in the Modesto office if needed.

Because fewer than 50 HUD-certified housing counselors practice statewide, Morales said, the need for more counselors has become crucial.

In the meantime, Morales continues to help those who are having trouble paying their mortgage or who have not had luck contacting their lenders. The service is free of charge. To make an appointment, call (209) 523-2860.

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