Unemployed Alabama homeowners can get help catching up on their mortgages and avoiding foreclosure under a new state program that uses federal stimulus funds.
Gov. Robert Bentley and Robert Strickland, executive director of the Alabama Housing Finance Authority, announced Wednesday that the program called Hardest Hit Alabama is available statewide. Unemployed Alabamians who own homes can qualify for up to $15,000 over a 12-month period to use on their mortgages, and they don't have to repay the money if they stay in their homes for five years, they said.
The federal stimulus program allocated $2 billion in mortgage assistance money to the 18 states with the highest unemployment. Alabama's share is $162 million.
Bentley, a Republican, said the program is a worthwhile use of taxpayers' dollars. "These are good programs that help those in times of need when they cannot help themselves," he said at a news conference.
Before launching program statewide Wednesday, the Alabama Housing Finance Authority conducted a pilot program late last year.
Bessie Lucas of Millbrook said the pilot program was a blessing after being out of work for seven months, and it allowed her and her 17-year-old daughter to remain in their home.
"With this program I am current on my mortgage," said Lucas, a medical assistant who started a new job with a podiatrist two weeks ago.
State officials could not say how many people statewide are behind on their mortgages. But Strickland said the Alabama Housing Finance Authority, which exists to help low- and moderate-income Alabamians secure affordable housing, services 21,000 mortgages and 8 percent of those are behind.
The new program is available to out-of-work homeowners who qualify for unemployment compensation benefits, owe no more than $258,690 on their mortgages, and have household incomes less than $75,700 annually.
Applications for the program are only available online, but Strickland said many public libraries have computers available to citizens who don't have them at home.
Lucas said the computer application process is easy to follow.
"I encourage everybody who is unemployed to apply," she said.