Rep. John Lewis Requests Federal Intervention Into Mortgage Relief Backlog
In response to news reports about the sluggish disbursement of $339.9 million in Hardest Hit Funds to Atlanta area residents facing foreclosure, Rep. John Lewis wants his constituents to know he has been demanding answers from federal agencies for several months to address this problem. He first learned about the bottleneck in June of last year.
“Finding ways to assist homeowners in this crisis has been challenging for the federal government because it does not hold all the cards or all the mortgages. However the Hardest Hit Funds initiative can be a productive way for the government to help people struggling with the burden of foreclosure and unemployment. It is a ray of hope for these citizens. That’s why I was very dismayed to hear that millions in potential assistance has been held up. I immediately began looking for a solution.”
Lewis and his staff engaged in the following chronology of interactions to highlight the need for housing counseling and program marketing to make the application process more accessible and a better known option for Atlanta metro residents. Most people do not even know the program exists. After working for about six months to get some viable resolution to the problem, he wrote to the president to suggest he consider mandating counseling services and program marketing as a requirement of the program. That letter is attached.
“Once again, we are calling upon the federal agencies involved and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs to expedite and facilitate the applications of Georgia citizens who are affected by the mortgage crisis. While we wait for steps to be taken, people are losing their homes, even though help was available. Efficiency is important, but public service cannot be so tight-fisted that thousands are left wading in need while only a few are assisted. We are seeking efficient public service, not ‘efficiency’ that ends up denying service.”
According to the last quarter report, which can be found on the Treasury Department website, the DCA, reported only 524 contracts with homeowners had been made and $1.2 million of the entire award had been disbursed. Original estimates suggested 9000 families could be served in the first year.
CHRONOLOGY OF REP. JOHN LEWIS’S WORK ON HARDEST HIT FUNDS
March, 2011: Representatives from Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) meet with Rep. Lewis staff in Washington, DC and report that they expect great demand for, and delivery from, the Hardest Hit Funds (HHF) program in Georgia.
April, 2011: DCA launches HHF as “HomeSafe Georgia”.
April, 2011: Rep. Lewis staff meets with constituents to discuss various issues on housing including the HHF. They express concern with DCA decision to use a web-based platform for its application process. They suggest the process will exclude people who have difficulty using the internet, or people who have had their internet service terminated. They recommend that funds be dedicated towards housing counseling.
June 2011: Constituents report to Rep. Lewis staff that local housing stakeholders believe HomeSafe Georgia to be performing poorly due to web-based platform and lack of awareness among GA residents. Congressman Lewis is briefed.
July 2011: Rep Lewis sends correspondence to DCA asking them to amend their contract with the department of Treasury to allow for housing counseling.
July 2011: DCA responds describing their efforts to facilitate the application process. They do not consent to offer counseling services.
October, 2011: Constituents inform Rep Lewis staff that DCA is reporting incomplete applications and beginning to consider outreach to homeowners who have not completed the application process.
October, 2011: Rep Lewis staff phone call with Phil Foil of DCA. Mr. Foil acknowledges difficulties with HomeSafe Program and expresses reluctance to adopt more aggressive methods.
February, 2012: Rep Lewis sends correspondence to President Obama asking for an Executive Order directing the Department of the Treasury to amend HHF contracts with states mandating that they dedicate funds for simple housing counseling services and program marketing.
March, 2012: Rep Lewis staff meets with White House Liaison and representatives of the Department of the Treasury.