Keep Your Home California turns five years old in February.
And like any 5-year-old, the free mortgage assistance program has changed, a lot.
When Keep Your Home California debuted, the state’s once-booming housing market had collapsed. Foreclosures dominated many communities, from Crescent City to Chula Vista. Home values plummeted statewide, in some cases by more than 50%.
Homeowners across the state were in need of financial help – and even an inkling of hope that they could remain in their homes. Fortunately, Keep Your Home California was – and still is – able to provide both, with up to $100,000 in mortgage payment assistance.
From the start, the four Keep Your Home California first mortgage programs were designed to help homeowners address hardships from different aspects of the foreclosure crisis. If you lost your job, the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program could make your payments for you while you looked for work. If you had severe negative equity, the Principal Reduction Program could reduce the outstanding principal balance you owed. And so on…
Officials with the state-managed program are constantly looking at ways to improve Keep Your Home California. As a result, there have been several changes along the way.
All of the changes were based on data and feedback program officials have collected from applicants over the years. If certain things weren’t working, they were changed or discontinued. If other things were working, they were expanded or remained in place.
Some of the most popular and often-used programs have been expanded over time.
One of the biggest changes was to triple the amount of time homeowners can receive help from the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. Now, out-of-work homeowners can receive as much as $3,000 per month for up to 18 months or $54,000. When the program launched it was capped at six months and $18,000, but program officials soon realized that wasn’t enough due to the staggering amount of Californians who were “long-term unemployed.” Like all of the program changes, the decision to expand was made to better address the challenges homeowners were facing.
The changes to the Principal Reduction Program have been even more significant. Originally Keep Your Home California required a dollar-for-dollar match from mortgage servicers as part of the Principal Reduction Program. For example, Keep Your Home California and the mortgage servicer could each offer a maximum of $50,000 under the program, providing a total of $100,000 for homeowners in principal reduction.
But few servicers enrolled in the Principal Reduction Program, meaning homeowners were unable to get the assistance. So, Keep Your Home California changed the program, and now provides the entire amount—up to $100,000. More servicers signed up for the program, which has allowed many more homeowners to be approved for principal reductions.
Within the last year, officials also announced an effort to assist homeowners with unaffordable mortgages through the Principal Reduction Program. Up until that change, the program was only available to homeowners who had negative equity. This change gave yet another boost to the amount of homeowners who could qualify. In fact, Keep Your Home California approved a record number of homeowners through the Principal Reduction Program in 2015. In 2011, the first year of the program, only 166 homeowners were approved. About 2,800 homeowners were approved in 2015, 17 times the amount of homeowners in 2011.
Another significant program change occurred when Keep Your Home California increased the $25,000 limit to $54,000 for the Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program, allowing homeowners to catch-up on their past-due mortgage payments. The data analysis showed that a significant number of homeowners had arrearages exceeding the previous program cap of $25,000 and many of those arrearages increased as the homeowners attempted to work on a loan modification with their servicers. In light of this information, the cap was increased. As has always been the case with this program, homeowners must be able to make their mortgage payments going forward.
In early 2015, Keep Your Home California also introduced a new program to help senior homeowners with reverse mortgages. The Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program offers as much as $25,000 to help cash-strapped seniors dealing with past-due property-related expenses, such as property taxes and/or insurance.
In addition to program changes, the team at Keep Your Home California also has made changes to increase the availability of assistance, improve customer service, and connect with more homeowners (this blog is just one effort we’ve introduced since the program started).
Keep Your Home California launched with just 10 mortgage servicers – the companies that collect the monthly payments – enrolled in the program. Today, almost 250 servicers participate in the program, from big banks such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo to pint-sized credit unions. With more servicers participating, more homeowners can be considered for assistance.
There have been other changes over time, including a new interactive website featuring a 12-question “Eligibility Calculator” homeowners can take to better understand for which programs they may qualify. The team at Keep Your Home California has been working to keep the programs relevant for the changing landscape when it comes to foreclosure prevention in the state. As the data changes, so too does Keep Your Home California.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Keep Your Home California’s far-reaching goal and never-ending focus has always been on helping homeowners. As long as there is funding available, the program will help low to moderate income homeowners who have experienced financial hardships prevent foreclosures.
Homeowners seeking more information about Keep Your Home California or any of its five programs should call 888-954-KEEP (5337) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org. Representatives can answer questions and take applications in virtually any language through a translation service and there is never a fee for any Keep Your Home California services. A Spanish-language version of the website is also available at www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org.