Staff Photo: Keith Farner Commissioner Mike Beatty of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs holds some of the paperwork applicants could fill out to apply for relief from the HomeSafe Georgia temporary payment assistance program. Beatty and other local and state officials promoted the program on Thursday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- For homeowners who have struggled to make their mortgage payments recently, the area where local officials gathered on Thursday morning is not a happy place.
On Tuesdays, it's where foreclosure sales happen.
But Charlotte Nash, the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman said the reason for Thursday's gathering was much more positive.
County and state officials met at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center to promote the HomeSafe Georgia temporary mortgage payment assistance program. Since its inception about a year and a half ago, the program has set out to use $339 million federal dollars to help 18,000 Georgia families by 2014 who are unemployed or underemployed, through no fault of their own for up to 18 months.
The federal program, part of the U.S. Treaury's Hardest Hit Fund, is designed to help 19 states that were the hardest hit in the foreclosure crisis.
So far, about 2,100 Georgia families have been helped in the early stages of the seven-year program, said Mike Beatty, the Commission of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Asked about criticism that he's heard about the program not moving fast enough, Beatty said it took time to hire about 60 people, and in the last year there has been about a 100 percent increase in people who have been helped.
"Our goal is to really accelerate where we are," Beatty said. "We kind of came to the realization that this was more of a retail-type of program where we had to reach out. A lot of times in government folks come to us."
While Nash noted that economists have said when the recession ended, but struggling families don't agree.
"It doesn't feel like it's over," Nash said. "We still have lots of challenges we have to deal with."
One reason the event was held in Gwinnett, Nash admitted, was that the county is at or near the top of the list of most foreclosures in the state.
"We like to brag about being the biggest, the best, the first in a lot of ways, but this is not one we're proud of," Nash said.
Beatty said the goal for Gwinnett is help 2,000 families, and to do that, his office works a second shift and on weekends to reach that goal.
"We doze, but never close," he said. "It's a bridge to help people get to better times."
Hopewell Baptist Church in Norcross will host a housing resource fair from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 10 with at least 100 volunteers on hand. Bishop William Sheals of Hopewell said home ownership is still the American dream, and the recession and foreclosure crisis has been a tragedy.
"You're still trying to save your home, we're here to help you save your home," Sheals said. "If your mortgage is up to date, I'm sure there is somebody on your block that needs to know about this ministry we call a program."
Rep. Rob Woodall's Chief of Staff, Derick Corbett, said the difference in this program from other federal programs related to the foreclosure crisis is applicants don't have to fail before they receive relief.
"Instead of a top down approach, the folks of the government have said, 'Let's give this money to folks at the state level,'" Corbett said. "My hero, Mike Beatty, said, 'We're going to get it out fast, we're going to be aggressive in our approach, aggressive in our marketing and aggressive in these services.' We're not going to wait until folks fail, we're going to find folks on the front end, we're not going to be reactive, we're going to proactive."
For more information, visit homesafegeorgia.com or call 1-877-519-4443.
-- A 25 percent reduction in income or 30 percent loss in gross receipts if self-employed-- Legal U.S. resident who is living in a primary residence classified as real estate
-- Monthy mortgage is 25 percent greater than monthy household income
-- The mortgage was current prior to loss of income
-- Current or no more than six months behind at time of application
-- Don't have more than $5,000 in liquid assets (doesn't apply to retirement accounts)
-- Don't have an active bankruptcy or a tax lien
-- Haven't been convicted of a mortgage-related felony in the last 10 years
-- Total outstanding mortgage balance isn't more than $417,000