Even during best of times, many Californians continue to struggle

California is enjoying a booming housing market, with record-setting prices in some areas, including the Bay Area and parts of the Los Angeles region.

But while some homeowners are cheering fast-rising prices and multiple offers in a red-hot market, there are less-fortunate individuals who are doing whatever they can to keep their home.

Luckily, Keep Your Home California – a free mortgage-assistance program – is available for many of these homeowners. So far, more than 74,000 homeowners have been helped, and thousands more could benefit from the federally funded, state-managed program.

The $2.36 billion program assists homeowners with a number of hardships, from being out of work to having an underwater mortgage – and many other reasons. In short, even with a healthy housing market in some areas, many Californians are still struggling.

Bakersfield sign 5_12-12

Some housing markets – especially in the Central Valley, High Desert and Northern California – have been slower to recover. For example, 98% of homes in San Francisco have exceeded their previous peak price, generating hefty gains for homeowners.

But less than 4% of the homes in Bakersfield, Fresno and the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino counties) have passed their peak price, meaning many homeowners have underwater mortgages, according to a Trulia report.

In fact, almost 281,500 homeowners in California had negative equity during the first quarter and owe more than the current value of their home, according to a recent CoreLogic report.

Negative equity is not the end of the world for some homeowners. Yet “continuing to make monthly payments on an underwater home is like renting, but with the interest mortgage deduction,” says Greg Cook, a mortgage consultant in Southern California.

Basically, homeowners dealing with negative equity are not gaining and likely losing financial ground.


Another all-too common challenge for homeowners is an unaffordable mortgage. A cut in pay or an increasing interest rate (or both) can make a one-time affordable payment into a much-tougher monthly burden. If a homeowner gets behind on just a couple mortgage payments, good luck catching up.

Of course, as we all know, sometimes life-changing events happen, such as a job loss, divorce, a death in the family or extraordinary medical expenses. These are all emotional – and financial – nightmares. And even during the best of economic times, all of these challenges happen far too often.

For example, California has created about 2.49 million jobs during the past seven years, easily the best job-growth rate in the nation, according to the state Employment Development Department. It’s the equivalent of everyone in San Diego and San Jose, the second- and third-largest cities in the state.

But even with the head-turning, impressive job growth, there are still 923,000 out-of-work Californians – more than the population of San Francisco, the fourth-largest city in the state. And there are some industries, such as energy and retail, where jobs continue to disappear. For example, numerous retailers — including Macy’s JCPenney, Kmart, Sears, Staples and Bebe — have announced store closures and layoffs during the past few months.

Plus, there are some areas of the state where the economic recovery is very slow. There are eight counties with jobless rates more than double the statewide average, including four counties with double-digit rates – Colusa, Imperial Merced and Plumas.

So, as some communities thrive – impressive job growth and home price increases – others struggle to survive. But it’s not always about a particular community or a region.

Sometimes, a booming economy and housing market can have a negative effect on seniors living on a fixed income. Higher home prices often lead to higher property taxes. For a senior on a tight budget, higher property taxes can become a financial hardship.

Senior Couple at Home

“It caused a little disruption,” says Shirley Y. of the boost in property taxes prompted by fast-rising home prices in her Bay Area neighborhood that has become popular with homebuyers. “We were able to do it for a while … We just kept getting squeezed.”

It’s an all-too common situation for homeowners with reverse mortgages – and many others in the state.

Fortunately, Keep Your Home California can help Shirley. And with five programs, the free mortgage-assistance program can help many other homeowners with the challenges and hardships outlined above.

Homeowners just need to take the first step and contact Keep Your Home California.

In order to apply, homeowners must have a financial hardship, such as a job loss, cut in pay, divorce, death in the family or extraordinary medical expenses.

In addition to the financial hardship, homeowners must meet county-by-county income requirements and their mortgage servicer – the company that collects the monthly payment – needs to participate in Keep Your Home California.

Homeowners interested in learning more or applying for the program should call the counseling center at 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org or www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org for Spanish speakers. The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Calls can be taken in virtually any language through a free translation service.