The UnidosUS Counseling Connection is creating innovative pathways to a better financial future for Latinos

June is National Homeownership Month, the ideal time to recognize an unsung hero working to boost Latino homeownership and support Latino families on their path to building wealth.

Formed in 1997, the Housing and Wealth Building Alliance is the largest group of community-based organizations working together to empower Latino wealth-building through homeownership. Through a network of nearly 50 HUD approved housing counseling providers, the Housing and Wealth Building Alliance develops effective, efficient programs that blend research, advocacy, and direct consumer counseling. In the last 10 years, this network of housing counselors has served more than 480,000 families across the country.


One of the unique programs emerging from the Housing and Wealth Building Alliance is the UnidosUS Counseling Connection (UCC), a center based in Phoenix, Arizona. It provides outreach, counseling and financial coaching to consumers over the phone.

Between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017, the UCC served nearly 1,900 callers. More than 700 families, including current homeowners and future homebuyers, participated in UCC’s financial coaching phone sessions during that period.

We sat down with Eric Salazar, Associate Director of Housing and Financial Empowerment at UnidosUS, who manages the UCC.

Eric Salazar, Associate Director of Housing and Financial Empowerment
Eric Salazar, UnidosUS Associate Director of Housing and Financial Empowerment

What is the UnidosUS Counseling Connection and what distinguishes it from traditional housing counseling?

The UCC is a telephone-based counseling center with five employees who assist callers with housing-related questions and connect consumers to housing counseling providers if they want in-person counseling or coaching. Each telephone counselor is trained to assess the caller’s individual situation and answer questions, with the goal of putting individuals on a path to financial stability. Counselors provide assistance over the phone in English and in Spanish.

Traditional housing counseling usually happens face-to-face, between a counselor and a client. However, telephone-based services allow for the expansion of counseling and coaching services to traditionally hard-to-reach consumers, add value to a community-based housing counseling provider by broadening their client base, and improve outcomes for both the organization and the client.

Who uses the call center?

Users include lenders, consumers, and financial coaches. One way that lenders use telephone-based counseling is to connect homebuyers with down payment assistance programs. Many families earning a modest income, including Latinos, can qualify for a mortgage, but may not have enough savings for a down payment. Lenders can connect these borrowers with down payment assistance, some of which may require homebuyer education provided by a housing counselor.  The way the process works is that a lender first meets with the individual or family applying for a mortgage. Then, if down payment assistance is needed, the lender connects the borrower with a housing counseling provider. Within 24 hours of a lender’s request, the counselor contacts the borrower by phone to begin the process.


Does the call center only help people who want to buy a home?

No, the call center assists individuals and families with other needs, such as financial coaching, to help them keep up with their house payments. UnidosUS partners with The Financial Clinic to make it easier to get financial coaching anywhere in the country. Many UnidosUS Affiliates introduce families they serve to the UCC.

First, the UCC completes a client intake over the phone to collect some baseline information. This information guides their referral to a financial coach who works with clients during a series of phone sessions. The coach charts the progress of each client as they take positive steps to improve their financial lives. By using the phone to connect families to coaches, the UCC can achieve scale in an efficient and effective manner. It also ensures that our affiliates and our clients benefit from all available tools and resources.

Telephone-based coaching sessions also help homeowners after they reach an agreement to change their monthly mortgage payment as their financial circumstances dictate. Coaches from two UnidosUS Affiliates, Spanish Coalition for Housing and Hacienda CDC, have helped homeowners stabilize or improve their financial health while keeping up with the largest expense in their monthly budget – a mortgage payment.  A lender will send the UCC a list of homeowners who requested support after changing their monthly payments. This allows the UCC to schedule and conduct a series of financial coaching sessions with the homeowners.


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