Federal funds to ease impact of state foreclosures

ATLANTA - More than $153 million in newly earmarked federal funds will extend a lifeline to Georgia regions hit hardest by the home foreclosure crisis, enabling leaders from Atlanta to Savannah to acquire and redevelop foreclosed properties at risk of being abandoned.

Housing and Urban Development's Neighborhood Stabilization Program will distribute $3.92 billion to all states and especially regions struggling to surmount high foreclosure rates.

The money was included in the federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which was signed into law in July. HUD plans a national housing summit Oct. 7-8 in Washington, D.C., as well as regional conferences to explain the program to state and local leaders.

The new program enables state and local governments to acquire land and property; demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties; and to offer downpayment and closing cost assistance to low- and moderate-income homebuyers.

Grantees also can create 'land banks,' assembling, managing and ultimately disposing of vacant land to stimulate redevelopment of urban property.

'To those areas trying to recover from the effects of foreclosure and declining property values, help is on the way,' HUD Secretary Steve Preston said in a news release. 'Clearly, the intent is to put this money to work in communities with the highest need.'

Grant amounts were determined by factoring each region's rates of foreclosures, subprime mortgages and mortgage defaults. Officials also weighed local abandonment risk.

HUD said the states receiving the most money were Florida, California, Michigan and Ohio.

The state of Georgia will receive funds totaling more than $77 million; nine other cities and counties will receive the remainder, roughly $76 million.

DeKalb County, labeled at 'high' local abandonment risk amid a 6.4 percent foreclosure rate, will receive the largest grant at $18.5 million.

That money could bolster the area's fledgling affordable housing program, designed to locate more economical homes around the region's business hubs, according to Burrell Ellis, county CEO elect. More affordable housing also could enable more police officers, teachers and others in vital - but sometimes underpaid - positions to live in the communities where they work, he said.

'It would give a wonderful jump-start to our affordable housing program,' said Ellis, who acknowledged even he can't afford to live near his job in the suburban Atlanta county.

Atlanta will receive $12.3 million; Fulton and Gwinnett counties each will gain more than $10 million. Clayton County will receive more than $9 million; Augusta, Columbus-Muscogee and Savannah, as well as Cobb County, also will receive money.

The statewide foreclosure rate is estimated at 5.2 percent, high, according to HUD, which estimates the national foreclosure rate at 4.8 percent.

Georgia was among the Top 10 in the nation for foreclosures through August, according to RealityTrac, a California-based online marketplace for home foreclosures.