Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 26, 2013

Helping homeowners

Program targets unemployed, underemployed

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — Unemployment and underemployment continue to hurt Kentucky’s economy, but there is help for homeowners at risk of foreclosure because of a job loss or reduction in work hours.

“The impact of the downturn in the economy continues to plague many of our Kentucky employers and communities. Job loss or reduction in pay can be devastating to homeowners and their families,” said Richard McQuady, executive chief officer of the Kentucky Housing Corp.

“The agency provides a centralized location for information on free public services to assist Kentuckians in keeping their homes,” McQuady said. “If homeowners are in need of assistance with their mortgage payments, even if they are currently delinquent on their home loan, free options are available.”

Kentucky’s Homeownership Protection Center is a joint effort of the KHC, Gov. Steve Beshear’s office, the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions and other organizations. It offers free support and assistance to homeowners who are in default or in danger of default on their mortgage loans.

The Unemployment Bridge Program is a forgiveable loan option for eligible homeowners to assist them in making their mortgage payments. Under the program, homeowners who have been laid off or seen a 15 percent reduction in income because of economic conditions can receive up to $30,000 to catch up past payments and make mortgage payments for up to 18 months.

The U.S. Treasury Department has offered Kentucky funding for the program because it continues to be one of the hardest-hit states as a result of the Great Recession, said Amanda Palmer, a spokeswoman for the KHC, which administers the program.

Kentucky had and continues to have above average unemployment rates. The U.S. seasonally adjusted jobless rate decreased to 7.5 percent in April, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, but Kentucky’s unemployment rate was 7.9 percent. Unemployment is falling statewide, down from 8 percent in March and 8.2 percent in April 2013, but not locally.

 Despite a dip in rates in Boyd County from March to April, rates are higher than they were a year ago. The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet reported Thursday that 7.1 percent of Boyd’s 22,265-member work force was without work. That’s up from 7 percent a year ago, but down from 7.3 percent in March. Greenup County’s rate also rose to 7.9 percent last month, up from 7.8 percent in March and 7.3 percent in April.

 Overall, the FIVCO Area Development District saw a slight decrease in its unemployment rate, with Lawrence, Carter and Elliott counties all reporting their rates of employment growing slightly. There were 5,213 unemployed workers in the area.

Sun Chemical in Wurtland shut its doors in February, laying off 30, and last week, Lester Telemarketing announced it will lay off 70 workers and move its operation to India. Layoffs, furloughs and hour reductions also have happened at other area employers in the medical, communications and government sectors. Others are reportedly pending in education.

Any of those individuals could be eligible for the program, Palmer said.

  “Individuals who lost jobs through no fault of their own can receive assistance. It is also for those who may have also had a significant reduction in income; for example, if your hours at work were significantly reduced,” she said. Couples who have seen their joint income fall significantly may also be eligible, said Palmer, along with those who are self employed.

“We always want to encourage people to try,” Palmer said. “What we have found is people are using their entire savings. They are saying, ‘I don’t need help because I have money in reserve.’ We don’t want you to use all your savings. As long as you have that reduction in income, you are eligible for the program,” Palmer said.  

Eligible UBP candidates can have two liens on their home, but the total amount of liens on the property cannot exceed $250,000. The lien holder also must agree to participate in the program, said Palmer, noting there are more than 332 servicers who are already participating in Kentucky. It can provide up to $12,500 to bring mortgage payers who are behind current and provide additional funds up to $30,000.  

Even if they do not qualify for the UBP, Palmer said the Homeownership Protection Center can offer assistance through other programs. “A lot of people don’t want a handout, and they see this as a handout. This is not a handout,” Palmer said. Eligible individuals, she said, “are hard working and the assistance is here for them. This is one of my favorite programs because it does benefit the people who just need a little help.”

“If they don’t qualify for the bridge program, still contact the Kentucky Homeownership Protection Center. We do have counseling agencies and those counselors will work with you. They can contact your servicer and work with you to keep you in your home. There are many things they can do.”

Kentucky homeowners can access free assistance by visiting the Kentucky Homeownership Protection Center at ProtectMyKyHome.org or by calling (866) 830-7868.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.