Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Foreclosure assistance can save your home

By Keith Phucas, Journal Register News Service

NORRISTOWN — If a couple is in default on their home mortgage loan, a state agency could help them save their home from foreclosure and give them a chance to get back on track with their payments. Yet according to Regional Housing Legal Services attorney Donald Marritz, only one in four homeowners with troubled mortgages bothers to apply for the assistance.

Typically, after a borrower misses a second house payment, the lender can move toward foreclosing on a property, but the process can often be delayed.

“Before a lender files a foreclosure, (it) has to send the borrower an Act 91 notice,” he said. “(The notice) tells them, if they go to a housing counselor, the lender can’t file for foreclosure for 30 days.”

That time period can often be stretched to four months, he said.

If homeowners meet with a counselor within 33 days of the date an Act 91 notice is received, the mortgage company is temporarily prohibited from starting a foreclosure case.

Regional Housing Legal Services, a member of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, provides legal and technical assistance to low-income families and other homeowners. The Pennsylvania state Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program could help save a family’s home, but homeowners must meet the qualifications.

To be eligible, delinquent borrowers must have gotten behind in their mortgage payments through circumstances beyond their control — a job loss or mounting medical expenses.

“What we’ve found is homeowners are good at explaining how they got into the situation, but they’re not so good at explaining how they’re going to get out of it,” Marritz said.

Those meeting the requirements are given between 24 months to resume paying the mortgage; however, in times of high unemployment, they get 36 months, he said.

If an application is granted, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency will loan the homeowner money to bring his mortgage up to date, according to that state agency.

As the threat of foreclosures have increased significantly in recent years, those applying to HEMAP has risen accordingly. In April 2008, a total of 3,875 Pennsylvania homeowners applied for the emergency mortgage assistance. A year later, 4,990 had submitted applications, according to Marritz.

In Montgomery County, 223 people applied for HEMAP money in April 2008. In April 2009, that number reached 347. Last month, 435 homeowners filled out applications for the assistance.

Marritz is baffled that more borrowers in default don’t at least try to take advantage of the assistance program. In Montgomery County, only 15 to 20 percent of strapped homeowners apply for the money. And many counties’ percentages are even lower.

Only five Pennsylvania counties — Potter, Tioga, Indiana, Monroe and Huntington — had 25 percent of imperiled borrowers applying to HEMAP.

For assistance and advice on avoiding foreclosure call the following agencies:

* The nonprofit Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania provides legal services related to housing, including foreclosures, sheriffs’ sales and bankruptcies, among others. The Norristown offices at 625 Swede St. can be reached at 610-275-5400. In Pottstown, the 248 King St. office number is 610-326-8280.

* Montgomery County Bar Association, 100 Airy St., can be reached at 610-279-9660.

* Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s toll free number is 1-800-342-2397. Persons with impaired hearing can call 717-780-1869.

For more information about Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Programs, visit

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