Georgia to receive federal housing aid

The U.S. Treasury Department has committed almost $127 million to aid unemployed Georgia homeowners facing foreclosure, but state officials are still unsure when residents might see relief.

The money is part of $2 billion the Obama administration will send to 17 states with the highest unemployment and the worst housing markets as part of the Hardest Hit Fund.

While the federal government launched the program in February, Georgia was included in the third round of states to receive the funding on Aug. 11. The Georgia Housing Finance Agency must now create a plan for how to allocate the money and get approval from the Treasury Department before funds can be distributed to homeowners.

"We don't know when it will be available or who it will be able to help until it comes down the pipeline," said Phil Cottone, the director of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs Office of Homeownership.

Cottone said the housing agency will submit its plan to the federal government by Sept. 1. When it's approved, unemployed and recently re-employed residents can apply for the funds.

"I'm excited about it because we'll probably be able to help people stay in their homes that otherwise wouldn't," he said, adding he's unsure how much money each borrower will receive.

The program applies to states that have seen an average home price drop of more than 20 percent from the peak, according to the White House Web site. Georgia also meets the unemployment requirement with a 10 percent unemployment rate as of June.

Considering the scope of unemployed homeowners in the state, Mark Brandemuehl, the vice president of marketing for real estate Web site Movoto.com, said the millions in aid will still be too little too late.

With almost 270,000 Georgia homes behind on mortgage payments in June, $217 million is a small serving to share, Brandemuehl said.

Because the money might not be available to homeowners until next year, it leaves behind the residents who might lose their homes today.

"If you're lucky enough to get the program I think it's going to be great ... but it's just not going to affect that many people," Brandemuehl said. "It's just a drop in the bucket."

The first five states implemented in the program in February were Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada. These states received priority, based on their having a 20 percent or greater decline in average home prices, according to the Treasury Department.

South Carolina was part of the group of states in the second round of funds announced in March. These states, also including North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island, were chosen based on the high percentage of unemployed residents.

Clayton Ingram, the director of marketing and communication for the South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority said his state just completed the approval process Georgia is now undergoing.

He expects payments of the state's $138 million portion to be made out to lending institutions for homeowners on Oct. 1.

Despite doubts about the program, any help in today's market is worth the wait, Ingram said.

"We know that we will not be able to reach everyone that needs this help," he said.

"And as a matter of timing, a lot of people in trouble today will not be able to hold out until the (start) of the program. That being said, when it is implemented, it's going to be a great help to those who need it."