There’s $350 million to help struggling Pa. homeowners – but no one can apply yet

Written by on December 24, 2021

There’s $350 million to help struggling Pa. homeowners – but no one can apply yet

By Kate Giammarise, WESA
December 24, 2021

Pennsylvania has been allocated more than $350 million in federal funds to help prevent foreclosures that stem from pandemic-related hardships. But it’s unclear when federal regulators will approve the details of the program — or when homeowners will be able to apply for the funds.

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Officials at the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency have submitted their plan for a program to give out the money to struggling homeowners. They’re awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

State officials want to be able to expand an ongoing pilot program to homeowners by Jan. 3. They hope the full program, called the Homeowner Assistance Fund, can be operational within weeks.

“We are ready to launch the full program as quickly as possible, once we have final approval from Treasury,” said Bryce Maretzki, director strategic planning and policy at PHFA.

The money is from Pennsylvania’s share of more than $9 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds for states to provide assistance to homeowners. (Aid to renters is already available; Allegheny County residents can learn more or apply here.)

The state’s plan estimates about 91,309 owner-occupied households with incomes below 100% of area median income are either behind on their mortgage payments or in forbearance — meaning they have paused or lowered their mortgage payments.

Homeowners will be eligible if they experienced financial hardship after Jan. 21, 2020 and have a household income below thresholds which, in southwestern Pennsylvania, amount to roughly $127,000 a year for a family of four.

Some assistance is already available to homeowners with federally backed mortgages, though that aid is not available universally, said Michael Froelich, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Approximately 30% of homeowners do not have federally backed mortgages, and would stand to be helped the most once the new fund is launched.

“The Pennsylvania Homeowner Assistance Fund is going to be an absolute game-changer because it will allow them to catch up on their mortgage, to cure their arrears, and then to continue paying affordable monthly mortgage payments,” Froelich said.

Legislators and other advocates have said they are eager for the program to get up and running.

“We’ve had calls come into the office asking about it,” said state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline. “We got calls that [ask], ‘When is it going to happen? When can I apply?’”

“All of us need a safe, secure place to call home — especially as the omicron variant is causing a surge in COVID cases,” said Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, executive director of Pittsburgh United. “PHFA was awarded $350 million this summer to assist struggling homeowners, but nearly six months later, we’re still waiting for homeowners to even be able to apply for assistance.

“Every struggling homeowner needs this help now to avoid foreclosures and utility shutoffs,” she added. “PHFA, the Treasury, and our state elected officials need to take bold and immediate action, not only to help us through this time of crisis, but to set a better course for the future of our communities.”

For more information about the Pennsylvania Homeowner Assistance Fund, or to sign up to be notified when the program opens: https://pahaf.org/ or call the customer support line at 888-987-2423

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