United Way sets up help line for mortgage foreclosures

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Finding it tough to dish out $105 million in federal foreclosure assistance, officials this morning said they were making it easy for homeowners with troubled mortgages to get help.

Their message: Just dial 211.

The state last year got an award of funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide aid to homeowners whose mortgage payments are at least three months delinquent, and who suffered income dips of 15 percent or more due to job loss, a reduction in hours, or illness. It has been accepting applications for the funds since April, but has so far committed only $27 million to 700 approved borrowers.

The deadline for drawing down the federal money is Sept. 30, so the state has less than three months to spend the remaining $78 million to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

Brian A. Hudson Sr., the executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency, doesn't want to leave money on the table.

"The name of the game is to try to reach as many homeowners as possible," Mr. Hudson said, after hearing that Allegheny County alone has around 4,000 open foreclosure cases.

Enter The United Way of Allegheny County, which is rolling out a human services help line for the 11-county Southwestern Pennsylvania region. It's there to find help for anyone who is having problems with utilities, healthcare, or job searching.

Anyone outside of the area served by the new 211 service can dial 1-800-552-4171.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato called the 211 line the most important news of the day, because it finally makes it easy for area residents to get referrals to agencies that can help them.

The mortgage aid comes in the form of a bridge loan that covers the amount in arrears, plus 24 monthly mortgage payments, up to a maximum of $50,000. If the homeowner stays in the home for five years, the bridge loan disappears.

The Emergency Homeowners Loan Program won't help people who are deeper than $50,000 behind on their mortgages, or who have not experienced a drop in income.

"It will help many of our folks who are the most vulnerable in this community," said Michael Dear, president of Action Housing.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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