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Government expands military housing aid program

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE — Military and civilian employees forced to sell their homes at a loss because of the real estate downturn may get help from a newly expanded Defense Department program.

The department’s Homeowner’s Assistance Program — in existence for more than four decades — has received a $555 million boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In the past, the program primarily focused on helping employees affected by base closures, but the infusion of cash will allow other categories to receive at least some assistance.

Defense officials say the new priorities are:

Ÿ wounded service members relocating for treatment and medical retirement or family members of those who died during deployment;

Ÿ military and civilian workers affected by base realignment and closure; and

Ÿ routine permanent change of station moves between July 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2009.

Military and civilian workers transferring from other locations might be the likelier candidates at Robins Air Force Base. The local real estate market is far better than in many other locations, said Angela Johnson, a housing program assistant on base.

“The situation in other parts of the country is bad and people are able to offer less — basically low-balling on houses,” she said. “But that’s not the case here. People come here thinking real estate is suffering nationwide, but Robins is not typical.”

According to the program’s Web site, the Homeowner’s Assistance Program is available to reimburse workers for part of their loss from selling a home, for financial help when sale proceeds are less than the mortgage balance, for direct government purchase at an amount not to exceed 75 percent of fair market value before any closure announcement and for help if a worker has defaulted on a mortgage.

The Robins housing office has received no requests for assistance at this point, although officials agree that word of the expanded benefit may not be widely known. “But we have information packages that tell members how to fill out the application and a data sheet that will answer most of their questions,” Johnson said. “We can also give them the Web site information so they can see if they actually meet the criteria.”

When in doubt, the housing program assistant advises workers to apply.

“Even if they don’t feel they are eligible,” she said, “it doesn’t hurt to send in an application because they might find they are.”

Transferring civilian workers have received housing assistance for many years. The latest wrinkle opens the door more fully to military workers. Lana Reaves, the housing asset manager for Robins, said that’s a good thing.

“It’s especially a good thing for people in hard-hit areas,” she said.

The Robins housing office may be reached at (478) 926-3776. The Homeowners’ Assistance Program Web site is hap.usace.army.mil.

“The Web site says Army,” Reaves said, “but it addresses all branches of the service.”

To contact Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.

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