Housing agency gets funds to help

Georgia homeowners facing foreclosure could get help soon through new funds provided to a local housing advocacy group.

The CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority is one of the agencies in Georgia that will get funds from the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program. The exact amount of Augusta's funding, which is part of $887,000 that went to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, was not disclosed but is less than $20,000.

It is enough for the authority to hire another staff member to help do foreclosure-prevention counseling, something it could only do in a limited way before, said Christel Jiles, the home ownership program coordinator.

"But now that we've said, 'Hey, here we are, we can help,' we expect those calls to definitely increase," she said.

Agencies in Savannah, Albany, Macon and Columbus will be getting similar funding, said Ron Ross, the business development coordinator for the Department of Community Affairs.

"From the standpoint of addressing the issue of people facing foreclosure, I think the funding is critically important," said Carmen Chubb, the assistant commissioner for housing for the state agency.

The South Carolina Housing Finance and Development Authority is not participating in that program, spokeswoman Barbara Pearson said.

The funding could help what might be a lingering crisis, Ms. Chubb said.

"Nobody knows for sure if we're really at the point of where we've peaked out with the foreclosures," she said. "The most reasonable estimate that I've read indicates that we'll continue with this trend through 2009."

Almost half the people facing foreclosure never contact the lender, which is a mistake, Ms. Jiles said.

Lenders "are more willing than most people think to reduce the interest rate or come up with a new payment plan," she said

The authority can work with lenders and homeowners to help get them back on track, whether it is budgeting or working around the problem that caused the foreclosure, she said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

AVOID FORECLOSURE

Most people facing foreclosure make the mistake of waiting too long before seeking help, and half don't talk to their lender about their options. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has tips to help avoid foreclosure:

- Reduce expenses by cutting costs in several areas

- Prioritize expenses by paying the most necessary bills first

- Protect your credit score by using credit cards wisely

- Try to save money to build a fund for emergencies;

- If you feel you might be getting into trouble, talk to a housing counselor certified by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These services are free.

- For a list of agencies providing counseling, go to www.dcaloans.com. You can also contact HUD at (800) 569-4287. Help is available 24 hours a day at (888) 995-HOPE (4673). That service is also free. In Augusta and 13 surrounding counties in Georgia, call the CSRA EOA at (706) 724-8588.


AREA FORECLOSURES FORECLOSURES IN FEBRUARY 2008

CountyForeclosure ratio from Feb. '07Rank in state% change
Burke1-1,31162-22
Columbia1-90751-21
McDuffie1-5782378
Richmond1-46418-3
Aiken1-4,131170
Edgefield1-2811--

Source: RealtyTrac


IN SOUTH CAROLINA

Congressman Gresham Barrett, with the nonprofit NeighborWorks America, will hold a home ownership seminar in Graniteville. Representatives will offer free one-on-one counseling on buying a home and avoiding foreclosure.

WHAT: Home Ownership Education Seminar

WHEN: March 28; 6-8 p.m.

WHERE: Christian Heritage Church, 285 Ascauga Lake Road, Graniteville