State urges struggling homeowners to seek new mortgage help

Window for Emergency Mortgage Assistance program closes in September

May 31, 2011|By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun

A string of terrible luck brought Deborah Goldring to the brink of foreclosure. Her husband died. All their savings were exhausted paying down bills from his long illness. Then she lost her job.

But just as the Baltimore woman's lender notified her that her time had nearly run out, a new federally funded program was launched to help homeowners like her. Now Goldring is about to close on a no-interest loan that will allow her to catch up on her mortgage and that will cover a large chunk of her monthly payments while she looks for work.

Maryland leaders gathered Tuesday in Goldring's backyard in Lauraville to urge more people to apply for the Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program, known in Maryland as Emergency Mortgage Assistance. State housing officials have received 350 applications and approved nearly 90 since the April start date. But they believe their $40 million in funding is enough to help nearly 1,200 borrowers — and the deadline to commit all that money is Sept. 30.

"I do not want to see this money that is so vitally needed go to waste," said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who helped create the nationwide program.

More than 85,000 Maryland homes are at high risk of foreclosure auction because their owners are at least three months behind on their payments, according to the most recent Mortgage Bankers Association figures.

The number of delinquent borrowers here and nationally has eased in the last year after a rapid increase fueled first by bad lending practices and then by a deep recession. Still, one in every 12 Marylanders with a mortgage is at least three months behind, compared with about one in 100 just five years ago.

Diane Thompson, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, said emergency mortgage assistance is a good idea because unemployment — long-term especially — remains high. It's all but impossible to get a lower mortgage payment through the federal Home Affordable Modification Program if you're out of work, she said.

The downside, Thompson said, is that the window of opportunity for the new assistance program will close quickly and the $1 billion total isn't enough money to help everyone who could qualify.

"What to me is astonishing is that we are facing a crisis of historic proportions, we are four years into this … and we have yet to decide that we are going to address the crisis," she said. "We have nibbled away at the edges."

Modeled after a 28-year-old program in Pennsylvania, Emergency Mortgage Assistance is aimed at homeowners who have lost their jobs, suffered a drop in income or are struggling with medical problems. Qualified borrowers behind on their mortgages by three to 12 months can receive a loan of as much as $50,000 to cover their arrearages and help pay for up to two years of future mortgage payments.

As long as they remain in the property and abide by the rules, borrowers don't have to make payments on the emergency loan for five years — at which point it is forgiven.

Goldring, 58, was delighted that help arrived in time for her. But she fears many homeowners who could benefit won't apply because they had already tried without success to get a loan modification from their lenders.

"People are giving up," said Vincent P. Quayle, executive director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore, which assisted Goldring.

The state-run Emergency Mortgage Assistance program can "help people immediately, so please don't give up," Quayle emphasized.

Goldring said her application went much more smoothly than had her earlier attempts to get a modification. She got word in about a month that she had been approved, and she expects to close on the loan soon.

"It was this big weight that was lifted off my shoulders," Goldring said, wiping away tears.

Her husband, Reginald Goldring, died in 2007 after a years-long struggle with viral encephalitis. Deborah Goldring said she had been struggling to keep up with both the mortgage and medical bills even before she was laid off from her job as an executive assistant at the University of Maryland Medical Center in late 2009.

Now the loan will catch her up — she was about a year behind — and will cover most of her $1,478-a-month payment. Her unemployment benefits will pay for the remainder.

"I'm just thrilled to death to still be in my house," she said.

For information about the Emergency Mortgage Assistance program, go to mdhope.org or call 877-462-7555.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/realestatewonk

    Baltimore Sun Articles
    |
    |
    |
    Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.