"Hardest Hit" Fund Yet to Reach Homeowners Needing It Most

By: Sherene Tagharobi Email
By: Sherene Tagharobi Email

Thousands of Michiganders are facing foreclosure, but all hope is not lost. A state fund--the Hardest Hit fund--offers up to 750 dollars a month for 12 months to those who need it most.

"If you foresee something happening, you're struggling a little bit, but you are up to date, you wouldn't qualify," said Kelli Ellsworth-Etchison of the Lansing Area Federal Credit Union.

As the name suggests, it targets homeowners hardest hit by foreclosure. If you're receiving unemployment, or suffer a one-time crisis like divorce, illness, or loss of wages, you may qualify. Ellsworth-Etchison says about a dozen LAFCU members have applied but they've only been able to help one person so far.

"He would have been behind on his payment so we were happy we could provide this service," she said.

Since the state fund launched in July, $2.4 million has gone to 554 homeowners, still leaving nearly $500 million up for grabs. The fund hasn't gone far because big banks like Bank of America and Chase, which control most mortgages, haven't signed up to participate. Some say that's because the program isn't nationwide and would be difficult to process in their computer systems.

State housing officials say an online portal -- yet to be named -- will go up in February. It'll be another way homeowners can apply for assistance and is expected to attract those larger lenders.

"Borrowers should pester their lenders and ask them why they're not part of the program," said Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing. "Contact their state legislators, their U.S. representatives, and make sure the pressure is being applied."

Schertzing says in the end, it'd be worth it for lenders to participate.

"The rescue...it's expensive. Well, it's time intensive, it's people intensive. I think it'd be a lot less costly to them than a foreclosure so they would be doing themselves a favor," he said.

So far, the 134 lenders active in the program are mostly small banks and credit unions.

Schertzing says there's a learning curve that's making it hard for lenders to process the hardest hit fund.

He says banks don't have enough staff to handle the volume of people suddenly needing loan modifications.

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