Struggling with mortgage payments and facing the prospect of foreclosure can be overwhelming and frightening for homeowners. In 2010, the Obama Administration launched the Hardest Hit Fund to help homeowners avoid foreclosure in the areas hardest hit by steep home price declines and unemployment. Through the program, participating housing finance agencies (HFAs) in 18 states and the District of Columbia are implementing a variety of different initiatives to help homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments. All participating HFAs are now operating programs widely and offering assistance to homeowners.
The North Carolina program—the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund—pays an unemployed worker’s mortgage for up to 24 months (up to $24,000) while they are enrolled in an educational or training program or are searching for a new job. In high-unemployment counties, the cap is 36 months. The funds are provided as a zero-interest loan to the homeowner, which does not have to be repaid if the homeowner continues to live in their home for 10 years. The loan can also be used by homeowners who are seeking employment because of a financial hardship such as a divorce, or who have become re-employed but need to bring their mortgage current because they fell behind during a recent period of unemployment.
Paul O. and his wife outside their home in North Carolina.
Paul O. has experienced the benefit of the Hardest Hit Fund first hand. After 17 years as a shipping and warehouse supervisor for an electronics manufacturer in Winston-Salem, he was laid off in February 2010. While disappointed, Paul had peace of mind on the day he was laid off. Paul says that was because of the information he had received from the Governor’s Workforce Rapid Response Team about the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund.
The Rapid Response Team offers early intervention for workers like Paul who are affected by layoffs or closures throughout North Carolina. Led by the N.C. Department of Commerce and local workforce development professionals, with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, a Rapid Response team meets with companies planning layoffs or closures and their employees on short notice and in confidentiality. The N.C. Housing Finance Agency’s outreach teams have participated in nine rapid response deployments within the past year, providing resources and information to over 4,000 displaced workers who may be eligible for assistance. Partnerships like these allow the state to target outreach directly to individuals who are likely to be eligible for assistance.
N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund Caseworkers
Paul says that what he learned about the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund during his Rapid Response meeting last November gave him his greatest comfort—knowing that a program was available to help him keep his home during the transition. He left that meeting with a notebook full of materials that gave him a sense of direction and hope. One of the pages he dog-eared instantly was the flier for the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund.
“We don’t want homeowners to wait until they’re in foreclosure to use our loans,” said Betsy Rozakis, the Housing Finance Agency’s CFO and director of the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund. “Our goal is to provide help before they’re in foreclosure, and before they have depleted their retirement savings or ruined their credit.”
Paul is now enrolled at Forsyth Community College to get an advanced certification in shipping and warehouse management that will help him become more competitive in a job market he has not had to venture into in over 17 years. Paul believes this has only been possible because of the N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund. The N.C. Housing Finance Agency will use loan funds to pay his mortgage and homeowner’s association dues through June 2013, while he finishes his education and seeks re-employment.
Hardest Hit Fund programs vary state to state, but may include the following:
- Mortgage payment assistance for unemployed or underemployed homeowners
- Principal reduction to help homeowners get into more affordable mortgages
- Funding to eliminate homeowners’ second lien loans
- Help for homeowners who are transitioning out of their homes and into more affordable places of residence.
Homeowners in participating states can apply for the Hardest Hit Fund through 2017, or until all program funds are allocated for homeowner assistance. For more information about the program in your state, contact your HFA directly.
Mark McArdle is Director of the Hardest Hit Fund.