Homesafe Georgia helps unemployed pay mortgagesBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
More changes have been made to Homesafe Georgia, a program that helps unemployed homeowners pay their mortgages for up to 18 months, and the Three Rivers Regional Commission and Georgia Department of Community Affairs are working to get the word out about the program.
“The message that we would like to have come across is that the program is available,” said Carmen Chubb, DCA deputy commissioner for housing. “We want to make sure everyone who is eligible is aware of it, that it is a bridge program to help people during the term of unemployment” get current on their mortgage and “maintain it for the long term,” she said.
An informational meeting about the program will be held July 26 at the Griffin Welcome Center in Griffin. And the DCA has put out a request for qualifications for state and regional organizations to partner with DCA on local events and outreach.
“If we have a regional partner in an area and DCA sponsors an outreach event, we may have that regional partner here with us to help us meet with individuals face to face and to follow up with individuals on a more local level,” Chubb said. The deadline for proposals for regional partners is July 23.
The Homesafe Georgia program, which is funded through the federal government’s “Hardest Hit Fund,” got off to a slow start.
The state received $340 million to help unemployed Georgians keep their homes. In the program’s first year, only $23 million was spent to help roughly 900 homeowners.
After several complaints about the slow start, numerous changes were made to the program in April, including loosening program criteria.
Since then, DCA has also addressed one of the biggest complaints about the program — that the application could only be filed online.
About a month ago, DCA started to allow applicants to make appointments to come in to the Atlanta office and fill out applications with a staff person. Georgians can also call and speak to a staff member who can fill out their applications over the phone.
DCA has partnered with the Georgia Department of Labor and Three Rivers to do outreach.
In early May, the organizations jointly held an informational session and application event in Carrollton.
However, only three people showed up, said Lanier Boatwright, executive director of Three Rivers.
“This is just not an issue where you say ‘ya’ll come,’ and people will come, for a variety of reasons,” Boatwright said at last week’s meeting of the Three Rivers council. “So we’re trying to figure out how to do the marketing.”
The idea was to do basically a “town hall” type meeting to get the word out.
“We need to do better outreach, to get the people that really need to come to this,” Boatwright said last week. “There are a lot of different resources out there, like the ministerial association. The banks, they know who is behind,” he said.
The meeting is aimed at the media, banks, real estate professionals, non-profit and government agencies, and the general public.
“It’s sort of frustrating, because there is money there, and the question is, how do you get people to come in?” said Boatwright.
The July 26 event is the first regional outreach meeting, said Chubb.
“We’ve already done a lot of work in the metropolitan area,” she said. “Our plan is to do it in each of the state’s 12 service delivery regions.”
Last week, she said, DCA did a training session for elected officials at the Georgia Municipal Association conference.
The idea of the regional events is “reaching out to community leaders, because we consider them to be trusted partners who can help us pass the information along to individuals we work with,” Chubb said.
“For instance, if it is a pastor, we will inform that pastor about the program, then offer to meet directly with that person’s church members,.”
Chubb said there is so much information out there about avoiding foreclosure that people don’t know who to trust.
“We really want to get with trusted partners to get information to individuals who may qualify,” Chubb said.
Since the changes were made a few months ago, applications — and approvals — are way up.
“In addition to the coverage that was given in the media, we have done a significant amount of outreach,” Chubb said.
“We definitely see it as a program that we want to make sure we continue to work at and make sure we continue to improve,” she said. “What we are focusing on right now is making sure that people are aware of the program and have access to it.”
Homesafe Georgia is strictly for Georgians who have had trouble making their mortgage payments because of unemployment or underemployment. That includes self-employed Georgians who have seen a significant decrease in their income because of the economy.
Mortgage costs must be at least 25 percent of household income, and applicants can’t be more than six months behind on their mortgage at the time they apply.
There is also a program to help cover delinquencies for homeowners who now have jobs but fell behind during periods of unemployment.
Homesafe Georgia can provide up to 18 months of mortgage payment assistance.
“We’re looking for people who were current and responsible with their mortgage before they suffered a job loss — and now they just need some assistance until they get their job situation back on track,” Chubb said.
Chubb said the U.S. Treasury Department’s key focus is to help “responsible homeowners who, through no fault of their own, are having trouble making their payments because of the economy.”
If applicants end up not being eligible for the program, they are referred to housing counseling partners who can help them find other programs to help keep them in their homes.
The program lasts until 2017 or until the money runs out. Any money left over in 2017 will go back to the U.S. Treasury Department.
But Chubb doesn’t plan on anything being left over. “We absolutely do not expect that to happen,” she said.
“We have set a goal to assist 18,000 homeowners by June of 2014,” she said.
For more information, visit www.homesafegeorgia.com or call 770-806-2100 or 404-679-5291.
For more information about the July 26 meeting in Griffin contact Three Rivers at 678-692-0510.
Information about other programs that help avoid foreclosure is available at www.955hope.org or by calling 888-995-HOPE (4673). The “homeowners HOPE hotline” is staffed 24/7.