Will other states follow Pennsylvania helping the jobless pay their mortgages?

Pennsylvania helps ward off foreclosuresThis is enough to make me want to move to Pennsylvania. The state will give you a loan of up to $60,000 to pay your mortgage and taxes to keep your house if you lose your job.

Whoever thought of this program, I am sending you cyber hugs. No, no, actually, I am nominating you for president. You feel the pain of the unemployed, the uninsured with the audacity to get sick, the recently divorced trying to stand on one financial leg in the greatest recession of all time.

The program, known as the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, has been around since 1984. It was created, said director Daryl Rotz, because at the time a lot of Pennsylvania coal mines and steel mills were laying off workers and these long time Keystone staters were losing their homes and being forced to leave the state.

Without question, said Rotz, interest in the program in the past few years has skyrocketed. To qualify, you need to live in the home and have suffered a financial hardship due to circumstances outside your control. You also have to demonstrate a reasonable chance of being able to repay the loan within 36 months; they don't seem to embrace those who have racked up large credit card debt. The 2010 loans are being made at 5.25% with a 10-year payout and the state assumes the position of second or third lien holder.

To date, 43,000 people have used the program and about 187,000 have applied and at very least, received counseling. The state has loaned out $456 million and received back $252 million. The rate of successfully avoiding foreclosure and repaying the state loan is about 87%.

Similar programs are in place in Delaware, North Carolina and five other states -- California, Florida, Arizona, Michigan and Nevada -- are investigating adopting like measures. And a recent, albeit vague, notice from the White House said that these five states would be getting an additional $1.5 billion to dole out in homeowner aid. The notice said the money would be given to state housing finance agencies to develop whatever programs were most helpful to home owners in those states. I'm trying to share the feds' trust here, really, I am, but you see, the problem is I live in California, where the Los Angeles mayor throws a big old Oscar party on the same day he canned 4,000 city workers and told the rest of them to take a pay cut. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is supposed to announce the rules of the program shortly, as well as how much each state gets.

Not much of the stimulus package has been directed at helping the unemployed stay afloat until they can find work again. And mortgage companies have taken a hard line -- often refusing to allow people who lost their jobs to refinance to a lower rate, even if that lower rate is currently being advertised to the population at large and the unemployed borrower has excellent credit and hasn't been late on a single payment. The loan modification programs won't even talk to unemployed borrowers unless the borrower falls behind on payments. So if you want help lowering your mortgage payment, you basically have to be willing to risk ruining your credit.

In Pennsylvania, when a borrower falls behind on their mortgage, the lender will send them a foreclosure notice with a list of housing credit counselors. The counselor gathers the information and helps the homeowner through the paperwork of applying to the state and several other foreclosure programs. Recipients of Pennsylvania state assistance receive $60,000 or 36 months of help.
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