HomesSafe Georgia Program Helps Borrowers Stay in Homes
On February 12, The Augusta Chronicle published an article titled State program helps homeowners avoid foreclosure.
State program helps homeowners avoid foreclosure
Two weeks after Lori Walker purchased her first home, she received news that rocked her financial stability.
Walker was laid off from her job at Palmetto GBA, an insurance benefits manager, in September 2013 after 19½ years. Suddenly, her new house became more burden than blessing.
Although she never missed a $680 mortgage payment, her financial situation was worsening. She found a new job with a billing company making $20,000 a year less than her previous position. Fearing she couldn’t cover her mortgage, Walker, 49, turned to a government program helping homeowners like her avoid foreclosure.
“You’ve got to think, you just bought a house and now you’re getting laid off, so how are you going to afford it,” she said. “It got to the point that I felt I had to go (to the program). It wasn’t a pride issue. It was about me making my ends meet and me doing what I had to do.”
In 2011, Georgia received a $339 million lump sum from the federal government to provide mortgage assistance to unemployed or underemployed homeowners. Georgia was one of several states selected for the funds because its unemployment rate was higher than the national average for 12 consecutive months, said Carmen Chubb, deputy commissioner of housing at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
So far, HomeSafe Georgia has distributed $130 million in 129 Georgia counties including $750,000 to 43 homeowners in the Augusta area, Chubb said. The state has until the end of 2017 to use the allocation from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund, a program that provides funds to the states hit hardest by the national housing crisis that began in 2007.
The Department of Community Affairs is searching for more homeowners to benefit from the program in Richmond County where the foreclosure rate exceeds the state average, Chubb said. In November, the county’s foreclosure rate was 1.05 percent compared to .78 percent for the state, according to data from the department.
The HomeSafe Georgia program stabilizes families and communities, Chubb said. More than 95 percent of families who received assistance have avoided foreclosure after exiting the program, she said.
“We don’t have properties in communities that are foreclosed upon which bring down property values for others. Families aren’t displaced so people can stay connected to their communities,” she said. “When a homeowner is still connected to his or her community, they are more likely to get a job and get back on their feet.”
Walker said she plans to stay in the program until she finds a job making the same income as she had before she was laid off. She applied for the program in July and was accepted the next month.
Homeowners can receive up to 24 months of mortgage assistance including reinstating back payments, Chubb said. HomeSafe Georgia can only assist homeowners with a mortgage balance of $417,000 or less, she said.
There is no cost to participate in the program but homeowners must qualify, Chubb said. The program has widened its qualifications to include individuals who need mortgage help because of military, medical or death-related setbacks in the last 36 months.
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