Saving SC homes from foreclosure

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Home foreclosures shot up more than 31% statewide last year.

The growing concern of foreclosure was driven in part by double-digit unemployment in most of the state's counties. But that high unemployment has at least made South Carolina eligible for new federal funding that could keep thousands from losing their homes.

State Housing spokesman Clayton Ingram said it stems from a program called South Carolina HELP. "It's not targeted toward people who have stripped equity from their home or used their home sort of as a piggy bank to pay off or to buy things that are not directly related to the upkeep of their home," he said.

But Ingram stated responsible homeowners who qualify can now tap into a pool of roughly $300 million of federal funding. It's money that could go a long way toward saving the dream of home ownership for people who've suffered from job losses, catastrophic illnesses, -or the death of a spouse. "We're looking for people who have been responsible borrowers, who have a track record of making their payments on time, have not fallen behind," Ingram said, "There's a list of criteria that are listed on our Web site, and that the counselors once they apply, can help them work through."

Sponsors said the money will prop up not only individuals and families but entire communities. "When houses are foreclosed, abandoned, they affect everyone," he said, "It's not just the homeowner. It affects communities. It depreciates the home values of the surrounding homes. The homes can become empty. They fall into neglect and blight. That can affect the quality of life for everyone in the neighborhood, not just the homeowners.

SC HELP can provide assistance in three ways:

-mortgage payments to your lender for up to 24 months if you live in one of 23 counties with especially high unemployment.

-up to a year's worth of payments if you live in one of the remaining counties, like Richland or Lexington with relatively low unemployment.

-if you can handle your mortgage now, you might still need to take care of penalties from the days when you couldn't pay.

The program also offers money to transition into a rental property if you can't save your home. All the details are on SC Mortgage HELP's Web site.

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