What I've learned during Michigan's fight on home foreclosure

As a former Flint banker who now leads the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) Homeownership Division, I’ve learned valuable lessons while launching our state’s Hardest Hit Fund program to prevent home foreclosure.
It’s hard to convince skeptics that progress in the fight against home foreclosure could be attainable if agencies such as MSHDA would only spend money more quickly.
It’s even harder to convince Michigan homeowners facing foreclosure that free help is available.
Many are too embarrassed to ask for help or too ashamed to discuss their predicament with anybody except for their priests, rabbis, pastors and ministers. Other at-risk homeowners simply don’t know about our state’s effort to prevent home foreclosure with the $500 million Step Forward Michigan program.
That’s why MSHDA is partnering with our state’s religious leaders and faith communities to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
The new Step Forward Michigan Faith Partnership campaign is designed to engage clergy, congregants and leaders of all religions in the fight against home foreclosure by promoting awareness about the Step Forward Michigan program.
The federally funded Step Forward Michigan initiative can offer up to $30,000 in targeted assistance to residents and families who’ve been hit hardest by the economic downturn to stay in their homes.
The program addresses each homeowner’s unique situation. But it generally breaks down into:
• Help to make mortgage payments while unemployed.
• Help to obtain a principal curtailment or loan modification from your lender.
• Help to assist homeowners who are in a severe financial crisis due to an illness or medical emergency.
• Help to obtain payment toward outstanding county and local property taxes.
We have already distributed millions of dollars through Step Forward Michigan to prevent foreclosures and to help stabilize the housing market since it began in 2011. To date, Step Forward Michigan has assisted homeowners in every county of the state.
The key is to make sure this assistance is getting to those in need quickly, effectively and responsibly while maximizing resources to help communities. We do this by developing partnerships -- with lenders, real estate agents, nonprofits, attorneys, local and state elected officials, our members of Congress and now with religious leaders.
Statewide, one out of every 724 mortgages is in some phase of default. Those who contact MSHDA before it’s too late can preserve the dream of homeownership.
Home foreclosures in Michigan are down significantly from a year ago. Nearly 97 percent of Step Forward Michigan beneficiaries continued to own their homes 12 months after receiving assistance.
We need to do more. We need more applicants. 
Please alert Michigan homeowners, family, friends and neighbors facing foreclosure that they can learn how to get support at www.StepForwardMichigan.org.
Mary Townley is the director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority Homeownership Division.
Mary Townley, Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) Director of Home Ownership Division
The Rev. Ira Edwards, Damascus Holy Life Baptist Church and president of the Michigan Organizing Collaborative
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