State offers money aid for 'underwater' homes

SACRAMENTO Constance Ahill has been out of work for over a year. "It's depressing. I don't like being in this position," said Ahill.

Not only have she and her husband seen their house lose value in this real-estate meltdown, but they're struggling to make their mortgage payments.

"It's been very difficult. He's actually handling the bulk of the responsibilities, and I wish that I can be of assistance to him," said Ahill.

The California Housing Finance Agency just announced the "Keep Your Home" Initiative. It's geared toward helping more than 40,000 low- to moderate-income homeowners who are "underwater," with $420 million from the federal government.

  • Much of the money could reduce the principle balance up to $50,000.

  • For those unemployed, up to $15,000 is available to help borrowers catch up on late payments.

  • And if foreclosure is inevitable, homeowners could be given up to $5,000 to move into a rental.
  • Lenders are encouraged, though not required, to match those funds dollar for dollar and perform loan modifications.

    "Homeownership is really important for communities in California. Folks have a vested interest in their homes, their schools," said Steven Spears, executive director, Calif. Housing Finance Agency. "By keeping these folks in their homes and communities, we help stabilize their communities."

    This is one of the first major attempts to shrink loans so they closely match today's home values.

    While thousands of Californians will meet the income guidelines, many will be disqualified because they've already refinanced their homes and cashed out some of the equity.

    Some homeowners feel it's unfair that help always seems to be geared toward those already behind on mortgage payments, instead of those who see it down the road.

    "The government doesn't want to help the people who aren't there yet, in this program. They're waiting until people are distressed to help them," said homeowner Travis Crow.

    "Anything is better than nothing. So I'll take whatever they're willing to offer," said Constance Ahill.

    The state is still working on implementing the program, which likely will start by November 1.

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