Mortgage concept

The Minnesota Homeownership Center says even though a new emergency assistance program is geared for Hennepin County, it has advisers available to residents all over the state if they’re struggling with their mortgage because of the crisis. (Adobe Stock)

MINNEAPOLIS — State officials said nearly 100,000 Minnesotans now are without extra unemployment benefits provided by the federal government during the crisis, and a housing group argued it should prompt struggling homeowners to seek help as new assistance efforts take shape.

The enhanced federal aid expired this month, but the Minnesota Homeownership Center said there is a new program, which aims to protect Hennepin County residents behind on their mortgage payments because of the pandemic. They can connect with advisers and possibly qualify for cash assistance.

Julie Gugin, president of the Center, said a wave of foreclosures would be devastating as the state continues to navigate the crisis.

“We know that foreclosures can be detrimental, not just to homeowners, but to communities at large,” Gugin asserted. “We learned that during the Great Recession.”

The center is working with the county to administer the Hennepin Homeownership Preservation Program, funded by federal relief grants.

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency estimates nearly 70,000 Minnesotans are behind on their monthly payments. The agency is in the process of crafting a similar program that will benefit residents across the state.

Jennifer Ho, Minnesota’s housing commissioner, said the statewide plan they are developing is also funded through COVID relief money. She noted for good reason, there has been a lot of focus on helping renters during the pandemic, but she added there must also be a cushion for homeowners in crisis.

“We know if you’re a homeowner that’s behind, that is hugely stressful,” Ho acknowledged. “And we know that homeowners who are behind are also disproportionately Black households who are six times more likely to be behind just because of the COVID and everything else has made it tougher on them.”

Ho pointed out they are waiting for approval from federal officials before launching the statewide program.

Gugin emphasized either initiative can help struggling homeowners figure out their next move with federal forbearance protections, which banks have used to allow households to pause payments, no longer in place.

She explained the Hennepin County program isn’t just designed to fix an immediate crisis.

“Consumers who participate in this program must work towards a sustainable solution,” Gugin stressed. “Which essentially means working with an adviser to figure out how best to balance their budget and take a close look at the affordability of their home.”

Participants who meet income requirements can receive up to $35,000 dollars.

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