Mortgage assistance for jobless on the way

Californians will benefit from federal program

08/11/2010 7:42 PM

08/12/2010 5:25 PM

SACRAMENTO — More than 42,000 laid-off California homeowners are about to get a break.

Starting Nov. 1, the government will help them make mortgage payments while they look for another job.

Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department added $476.2 million to a $64 million state program that will pay jobless homeowners up to $1,500 a month. The funding represents the newest federal effort to redirect Troubled Asset Relief Program funds originally designated to prop up lender balance sheets to homeowners.

The powerfully upgraded $540 million program will help California's struggling borrowers make up to six months of payments. Lenders will be asked to match the government contribution.

In a statement Wednesday, Steven Spears, executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency, said the cash will "prevent foreclosures that would otherwise devastate neighborhoods, communities and California's economy."

CalHFA will administer the program as the state's affordable housing bank. In recent weeks, the agency has received $1.1 billion in federal funds for states hit hardest by the housing crash. The money will subsidize mortgage payments, partially pay off mortgages and help thousands of borrowers catch up with payments.

In the Northern San Joaquin Valley, unemployment has soared to more than 17 percent this summer. There have been more than 52,000 foreclosures since the start of 2007.

"In this recession, people have been out of work longer. So we wanted to do this," Assistant Treasury Secretary Herb Allison said Wednesday during a media conference call.

The California program aims to help 19,000 unemployed borrowers make a few months of mortgage payments from its November launch to next July. An additional 23,000 borrowers will receive help in the next two years, according to CalHFA estimates.

To qualify, homeowners must be out of work, eligible for unemployment benefits, and live in the home tied to the problem mortgage. They must be fewer than 90 days behind on mortgage payments and meet low- and moderate-income guidelines.

But many who refinanced during the housing boom will find themselves ineligible.

CalHFA said it is generally limiting aid to unemployed borrowers struggling with purchase loans. Though criticized for the exclusion, CalHFA officials said recently they can't decide who "cashed out for a good reason and who didn't."

Wednesday's $476.2 million allocation to California was the largest share of $2 billion awarded to 17 states. CalHFA has received 29 percent of $4.1 billion in foreclosure prevention funds steered this summer to state housing finance agencies.

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