Roy Gutierrez, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Montebello, says he’s about to lose his home after signing up for a government-backed program, which he now refers to as a “scam.”
About three years ago, Gutierrez says his problems began with a knock on the door from someone promoting Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO). The representative said he could help the veteran fix up his home for about $250 a month.
Work began quickly and continued for months, with new projects continuously being added on, according to Gutierrez.
When the work was finally completed, Gutierrez’s bill was over $47,000, far more, he says, than the original quote of about $20,000.
Gutierrez says the debt was added to his property taxes.
“My taxes went from $4,000 a year to $11,000 a year. Everything from there just tumbled down. I couldn’t afford the payments,” Gutierrez said.
When his friend and neighbor Juliann Collins heard that Gutierrez was about to lose his home, she stepped in to try to help.
“They didn’t check to see if he had equity in his home, because he did not. ... He was on a loan modification. He didn’t have 90 percent or whatever they say in order to qualify. So technically he didn’t qualify for the program. But they still went ahead and they opted him into it,” Collins said.
A real estate lender who talked to KTLA described this type of program as predatory lending.
“They come in and they tell you a certain amount. They never really tell you what’s the interest on top of interest,” John Ceballas said.
According to a Los Angeles Times story about increasing concern over loans like the one Gutierrez signed up for, the HERO program is run by San Diego-based Renovate America. It's one of several government-approved Property Assessed Clean Energy loan programs, which have been drawing scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers in recent years.
The loans are secured by a lien against the homeowner's property – and if the loan isn't paid, a foreclosure can occur. Borrowers don't put any money down and often don't see a bill for several months, the Times reported.
A spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney confirmed Monday that the office is continuing an investigation into the program that began in 2015.
Gutierrez, who served in an artillery unit in Vietnam, says he regrets ever signing up for the HERO program.
“I feel bad because I made the mistake of trusting somebody,” Gutierrez said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Gutierrez raise money to keep his home.
A representative for the HERO program says all state regulations were followed in approving financing for Gutierrez.
According to its website, HERO helps home owners finance energy-efficient products, which reduce utility bills and increase the home's value.