OPINION: Helping unemployed homeowners keep their homes

Special to The TelegraphJune 29, 2014 

While the economy in Middle Georgia continues to improve, many homeowners whose lives and jobs were affected by The Great Recession are still looking for relief. With the unemployment rate hovering close to 7 percent, homeowners in financial distress need to know help is available.

To that end, I want to make certain everyone knows about one recently expanded program that can provide a lifeline for unemployed homeowners in Middle Georgia still searching for a new job.

As a beneficiary of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit Fund, our state received $339 million back in 2011 to help homeowners who lost their job or became underemployed avoid foreclosure. This program is called HomeSafe Georgia, and it has already helped more than 5,200 Georgia homeowners in 124 counties stay in their homes.

Now, HomeSafe Georgia has expanded to help homeowners dealing with other kinds of financial distress. How does it work? Anyone who is unemployed or underemployed through no fault of their own may receive temporary help to make their monthly mortgage payment. To help homeowners make the transition to find a new job, the length of time homeowners can receive assistance has recently been increased to 24 months.

In addition, HomeSafe Georgia can now help out homeowners who are able to make their mortgage payments, but fell behind within the past three years for a variety of reasons. These reasons include a medical hardship, death in the family or the transition from military service to civilian life. These homeowners may qualify for a one-time sum to cover up to 12 months of mortgage payments.

Another new feature helps homeowners with a permanent drop in income to reduce their mortgage principal by up to $30,000, making the mortgage affordable and allowing them to stay in their home. The homeowner must meet certain criteria and their lender must participate in the HomeSafe Georgia program.

The program’s intent is to help people keep their homes while searching for new jobs. After filing an application for help, it’s the home­owner’s responsibility to pursue the income needed to resume their payments when assistance has concluded. In the meantime, HomeSafe Georgia sends payments directly to the homeowner’s bank, eliminating the necessity for the individual to deal with financial transactions.

The program’s benefits to home­owners in financial distress are clear. If you’ve ever lost a job, keeping up with your mortgage payments is the most immediate financial issue for your family. If you’ve lived in the home for many years, you’ve also made an investment that is likely your family’s largest asset. There’s also an emotional attachment to the home, especially if you have children who attend local schools.

But this program is also helping many communities in Middle Georgia by keeping neighborhoods intact. Even a single foreclosure can lower property values for an entire neighborhood. And if a home becomes vacant, it can be vandalized and cause further harm to everyone nearby.

Finally, more than 5,200 Georgians who’ve remained in their homes are contributing to the local tax base. Many now have new jobs and the combined value of their homes is roughly $600 million, so they are paying income and property taxes.

If you believe you may qualify, you can file an application and find out more about the program’s requirements at www.HomeSafeGeorgia.com, or call 1-877-519-4443.

Gretchen Corbin is commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the HomeSafe Georgia program.

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