Unemployed homeowners across the state can now be part of a new assistance program offering to help with mortgage payments. State officials are spending more than $217 million to help unemployed Tennesseans keep their homes. The challenge is turning out to be much tougher than state officials originally thought when they were given their share of federal mortgage-relief program benefits almost two years ago. As of September 30, Tennessee has spent 13.3 percent, or $28 million, given to them by the state, which ranks low among other states. The Hardest Hit Fund is using money provided by the federal government to make mortgage payments for homeowners who have recently lost their jobs. In 2008, the federal government launched the Troubled Asset Relief Program to help struggling banks, and some of the money that Tennessee received from this program is now being allocated to unemployed homeowners.
Although Tennessee’s percentage is low in comparison to other states, state officials claim that Tennessee’s program, Keep My Tennessee Home, has been successful so far. Because they are wanting to assist even more homeowners, state officials are launching a state-wide marketing campaign. So far, Tennessee’s program has helped 2, 234 homeowners make their mortgage payments since early 2011, according to the latest quarterly report the state filed with the federal government. Bill ClenDening of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency is confident in this program and says that the state plans to help a total of 2,700 homeowners by the end of this year and ultimately assist 10,000 homeowners by the program’s end.
So far the state has spent nearly $23.6 million in direct assistance plus $5.3 million in administrative costs. Although Tennessee has spent a higher percentage than 10 other states, they still rank in the middle for delegated funds. Through this program, the states have until 2017 to use the money; however, the federal government has advised state officials to spend the money sooner as the country is recovering from the housing crisis.
ClenDening says he hopes to have all of Tennessee’s funds committed to homeowners by the end of 2014, but finding who to delegate those funds to can be a challenge because only 3, 355 homeowners have applied for Keep My Tennessee Home since September 30. Officials are worried that unemployed homeowners may not know about this program or they may believe it is a scam, so the state-wide marketing campaign being launched soon will be focused on raising awareness. The state is now lowering the criteria necessary for applying in hopes of finding more homeowners in need. Initially the program only accepted applicants from 29 Tennessee counties; however, the search now includes all 95 counties. The aid limit was initially set at $25,000 and 18 months, but after realizing that many homeowners were further behind on their payments, the state expanded the aid limit to $40,000 and 36 months.
In order to provide information about Keep My Tennessee Home, the Tennessee housing agency hired Memphis public relations firm, Walker & Associates, to create a marketing campaign expected to launch in January. Although the campaign may cost up to $1 million, state officials think it is necessary in raising awareness and providing information to unemployed homeowners across the state.