For struggling homeowners, the prospect of foreclosure can be overwhelming and frightening. The Administration has made a range of programs available to help homeowners prevent avoidable foreclosures. In 2010, President Obama launched the Hardest Hit Fund to provide targeted aid to families in states hit hard by the economic and housing market downturn. These areas represent those that have been hardest hit by unemployment and steep home price declines.
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 struggling homeowners.
The Ohio version—Restoring Stability—includes four program options to address the needs of homeowners with financial hardships who have been unable to qualify for existing loan modification and foreclosure prevention programs. These programs are for homeowners who have suffered an involuntary loss of income to help them get current and stay current on their mortgage payments. These funds are provided as a zero interest, five-year second mortgage; all payments are deferred, and 20 percent of the balance is forgiven each year.
Since the initiative’s launch in September of 2010, 4,051 Ohio homeowners have received more than $34 million in assistance. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency aims to assist as many as 53,000 homeowners through its Restoring Stability initiative over the next five years.
Grace and her 11 year old daughter of Cuyahoga County, Ohio have experienced the benefit of the Hardest Hit Fund first hand. After 8 ½ years, the medical company Grace was working for had to lay her off after losing a major account. Grace was shocked and said, “I panicked.” Wondering how she was going to keep up with her bills, she reached out to her mortgage company for help. For three months, she tried to get assistance, but keeping up with the bills by herself became too difficult and soon she fell behind on her mortgage payments.
She was about to give up when she remembered an advertisement she had heard for the Restoring Stability initiative in Ohio. Funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund, Restoring Stability provides $570 million in assistance to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency to help homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments.
When Grace learned that the Restoring Stability initiative could help her make her mortgage payments while she looked for work, she thought at first it sounded “too good to be true.” Compared to the time she had spent struggling to get help from her mortgage company, she was surprised to find the process of applying—either online or through a housing counseling agency—for the Restoring Stability initiative much easier. Restoring Stability offers a seven-step online application process through its website, www.savethedream.ohio.gov, as well as a wealth of information about the foreclosure process in Ohio.
Grace worked with a housing counselor, Robert Ludman, who helped her complete her application and provide the appropriate paperwork. Robert is one of eight in-house counselors that the Ohio Housing Finance Agency makes available to assist homeowners using the online application by providing counseling over the phone. Working with homeowners from across the state, Ohio’s team of in-house counselors is very efficient. Within a few weeks, Grace was approved for Restoring Stability and is now receiving assistance with her mortgage payments. The initiative also made payments for the two months she had fallen behind so she could be fully caught up on her mortgage. She says, “The layoff is a bump in the road. This assistance will help me hang on. I can focus on next steps. I’m looking for jobs like crazy.”
Grace also says, “If this was going to happen, I’m glad it happened now so I could get the help I need. I would tell other homeowners in a similar situation not to give up.”
Areas participating in the Hardest Hit Fund include: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington DC.
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. Any homeowner who is struggling with their mortgage payments can work with a HUD-approved housing counselor for free by calling 888-995-HOPE (4673) or visiting MakingHomeAffordable.gov.
Mark McArdle is Director of the Hardest Hit Fund.
[Photo credit: photo of Robert Ludman provided by the Ohio Housing Finance Agency]