So, your income has been reduced. You've been hit with unexpected medical bills or maybe you had to clean out your savings to pay for home repairs after last year's flooding. Your life circumstances have changed due to any or all of these reasons, your monthly bottom line is getting leaner and leaner, and you wake up at night in a cold sweat because you fear you'll soon be defaulting on your mortgage payments.
Or, maybe you are already looking down the barrel at foreclosure. Any of this sound familiar? I'd venture that a significant portion of those reading this piece are nodding "yes" right now. But, who's going to help you? You've got a job. You're making your payments (barely). You're not destitute and starving, so why would there be help available for you? Those programs are for people losing their homes, right? They'll just tell me to tighten my belt and cut back, won't they? I bet many of you are still nodding.
Last year at this time, I would have been nodding too. But, as of right now, I'm standing here telling you (actually yelling at you) to stop nodding and pick up the phone! My first call was to my lender, Rhode Island Housing, to ask about assistance programs they might offer because we were blowing through our savings just to keep making our mortgage payments and default was on the horizon. I'd lost 25 percent of my income due to a change in employment, we were upside down on our home loan because property values were wallowing in the mud, and we had just added another child to our brood. Also, to add a little bitter icing to the pain cake, our mortgage was on the verge of adjusting and raising our payment by a few hundred dollars that we just didn't have each month. In short, we were desperate, and I made the call.
Rhode Island Housing instructed me to fill out an application for assistance through the Hardest Hit Fund Rhode Island (HHFRI), a foreclosure-prevention program that is federally funded and seeks to keep homeowners in their homes if at all possible. This sounded promising. Within days, we had submitted the applications and supporting documents and were feverishly awaiting a response. To be honest, our first attempt was met with disappointment because, under the guidelines of the program, we didn't qualify for assistance.
Despite our struggles, the numbers didn't crunch in our favor. We were shattered. But, along the way it must have become clear that the program's requirements were a bit too stringent and that fewer people than expected were qualifying for assistance. People like us who really were in need of help.
So, the good news is that HHFRI caught up with the data and re-assessed their program requirements. This became clear to me during a HHFRI free informational meeting when I started to give the presenter an earful about our rejection. He politely interrupted me and said, "Wait a minute. I think you were assessed under the older requirements. You might qualify now." He helped us re-submit another round of applications against the updated requirements and, to our relief (and slack-jawed surprise), we qualified. We are now receiving an assistance package from HHFRI that is helping us to keep our home.
Our kids aren't being uprooted, we no longer have to borrow from family and friends, and we don't have to deal with the emotional distress of losing our home.
So, if you are having trouble making your mortgage payments, DON'T WAIT. Do something before it's too late. Call HHFRI at (401) 277-1500 and talk to a counselor. Attend a free HHFRI community meeting. Go to their website (www.hhfri.org) and do the online self-analysis or meet with your lender about their involvement with HHFRI. Heck, find them on Facebook and get info that way!
Whatever you do, get the ball rolling on an application. You might be pleasantly surprised; I know I was.
Jay Harding is an Environmental Systems Supervisor for the RI Army National Guard. He, his wife and two boys live in South Kingstown.