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State launches mortgage relief effort, has $20 million to loan to besieged homeowners

A state agency has launched a lifeline to homeowners at risk of losing their homes due to the pandemic.

The Oregon Homeownership Stabilization Initiative (OHSI), a program administered by Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS), has $20 million to loan to homeowners who need help making their monthly mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure. The program, according to a release from the agency, provides a one-time payment directly to mortgage servicers to bring delinquent first-lien mortgage accounts current.

"Oregon residents are facing multiple crises at once," said Emese Perfecto, director of OHCS' homeownership division. "We know that easing the burden of past due mortgage payments is a critical way we can keep families stable while they endure these challenges. This program provides hope to many struggling homeowners."

Funds for the program emanated at the federal level from the U.S. Department of the Treasury through its Hardest Hit Fund, created during the last recession. OHCS successfully lobbied to extend the fund program during the pandemic with the help of Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

The assistance is through a no-interest, forgivable, five-year loan that requires no payment from the recipients as long as they don't sell or refinance the home for at least five years, the release said.

And the program has come at a time of near-record unemployment in the state, primarily caused by the onset of the pandemic. As of September, more than 165,000 people were unemployed in the state, a figure roughly double from the previous year. The OHSI, the release said, has helped more than 16,000 people stay in their homes.

"Being at risk of losing your home can be extremely stressful. We want homeowners to know that they are not alone," Perfecto said.  "Our trained partners are here to advise you and answer any questions you have."

Criteria to become eligible for the program is fairly straightforward: Homeowners must be past due on a mortgage payment due after Jan. 1; must have experienced a financial hardship such as job loss, reduced income, high medical costs, disability, death in the family, or divorce; and the mortgage payment must not be more than 45% of a homeowner's household monthly income.

For more information and access to the application portal, visit the OHSI website at Housing counselors are on duty to help homeowners with the application process as well.

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