CHICAGO — A nearly two-year-old program aimed at helping unemployed and underemployed homeowners prevent foreclosure has been a well kept secret to some homeowners.
For those who qualify, the program will make mortgage payments for up to 1-1/2 years or up to $35,000 on homes with a principal balance not more than $500,000. The program also provides reinstatement assistance and pays mortgage arrearages, fees and penalties in full.
Rita Ross lost her $150,000 Roseland home to foreclosure in August after 13 years as a homeowner. She now lives in a three-bedroom apartment in the Calumet Heights neighborhood with her husband and two children, but said she would have rather stayed a homeowner.
"I never heard about this program. I refinanced my home and met with counselors, but no one ever told me about a program that could have saved my home," said Ross, 52. "When I lost my home and moved to an apartment I had to get rid of my dog Brownie. I loved my dog and miss her so much. I really wish someone had told me about this Hardest Hit program."
Ross added that she fell behind on her mortgage after her husband's unemployment benefits ran out.
"Had it not been for that we probably could have handled the mortgage," Ross said. "My household income was cut by 50 percent when my husband lost his job. I don't know anyone who could keep their home if their income dropped as much as mines did."
Ross was a "perfect candidate for this program had it been better promoted by the state," said Peter Foster, a housing advocate. "I hope the state did not market this program to more affluent areas only where the need is not as great."
Rebecca Boykin, a spokeswoman for the housing development agency, said the organization has aggressively advertised the program to all communities since its inception.
"We've marketed the Illinois Hardest Hit program statewide with materials, events, news coverage and ads," Boykin said. "Over the last year, the Illinois Hardest Hit program approved an average of 474 households a month."
According to a 2012 report by RealtyTrac LLC, a real estate research company, Illinois in 2012 posted the fifth highest foreclosure rate in the country with 2.58 percent of homes getting a foreclosure filing during the year.
The report also ranked Chicago ninth among the top metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rates, at 3.31 percent.
Homeowners can apply for the Hardest Hit program online and must meet several requirements to qualify. They include proof that household income is at or below 120 percent of the area median income; household liquid assets, such as jewelry, cannot exceed $17,500; applicants must not have been convicted of a mortgage-related felony in the last 10 years; households must have a documented income reduction of 20 percent due to unemployment or underemployment through no fault of their own; and homeowners must carry a fixed or adjustable rate loan.
And homeowners who do not qualify for the Hardest Hit program should look into other state programs available through the Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network, Boykin said.
Gloria Hadley has lived in her $47,000 Grand Crossing home for the last five years, but said she has fallen behind on her mortgage by $4,000 due to her fixed monthly income of $647.
"That's all I get. Social Security does not pay much these days," said the 77-year-old widow. "This house needs a lot of repairs and between the leaky roof, faulty plumbing and taxes I cannot keep up with the mortgage."
Regardless what situation led a homeowner to fall behind on their mortgage, Boykin encourages them to contact the housing development authority for help.
"IHDA successfully partnered with 300 lenders and 60 counseling partners across the state to connect homeowners to this resource," Boykin said. "IHDA is a self-supporting state agency that finances the creation and the preservation of affordable housing across Illinois. [And] since its creation in 1967, IHDA has allocated more than $11.6 billion and financed approximately 225,000 affordable units across the state."