An estimated 300 homeowners attended the second HomeSafe Georgia event hosted by 4th District U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson on Dec. 8 at Salem Bible Church in Lithonia.
The five-hour session, co-hosted by Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs and HUD-certified housing counseling agency D&E, provided residents with information about programs that could help them avoid losing their homes.
Johnson said DeKalb, with its high foreclosure rate, has weathered a tough storm.
“It hit us tougher than other parts of the state and other parts of the nation,” he said.
Statewide, DeKalb ranks third with 13,514 foreclosures through November 2012. Gwinnett and Fulton top the list with 17,721 and 14,695 respectively.
Abandoned homes overgrown with weeds and debris dot the landscape in DeKalb and have lowered property values.
In 2010, the Department of Community Affairs got $340 million from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.
The money was part of President Barack Obama’s Hardest Hit initiative to prevent avoidable foreclosures. Johnson said that effort grew into the HomeSafe program, which offers interest-free loans to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgage.
HomeSafe Georgia organizers say only about $50 million has been spent, an indication that many who could benefit aren’t aware of the help that’s available.
Xerone Pledger, D&E’s director of operations and marketing, said the HomeSafe Georgia sessions are designed to give homeowners an opportunity to talk in person with counselors.
“We’re just trying to disseminate information and let people know that the monies are there for the unemployed or underemployed,” he said.
HomeSafe Georgia helps homeowners who have suffered a hardship due to unemployment or underemployment and are able and willing to work or are seeking new or better employment.
Applicants must have been current on their mortgage before becoming unemployed or underemployed and cannot be more than six months behind on the mortgage at the time of application.
Pledger says there are other loss mitigation programs for homeowners who are more than six months delinquent and have foreclosure notices. One example is the federal Home Affordable Modification Program, which can cut qualified mortgage interest rates as low as 2 percent for a limited time.
Pledger said housing counselors become advocates for applicants.
“We have people in place who can walk them through just to see what they qualify for,” he said. “Most of the time they will qualify for something unless they’re in active bankruptcy and we can’t do anything to help them.”
Johnson’s office and D&E say they’re planning more HomeSafe events in the next few months and are working out the dates and locations.
For more information, call D&E at 770-961-6900.