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Facing pandemic hardships? This Connecticut program could help you stay in your home.

A lawyer appointed by the court prepares to auction off a foreclosed home in New Haven.
Jim Haddadin
CT Public
A lawyer appointed by the court prepares to auction off a foreclosed home in New Haven.

As many Americans struggled financially during the pandemic, federal and local governments and organizations stepped up to help. Homeowners took advantage of federal foreclosure moratoriums and forbearance, but now most of those options have expired. Homeowners could once again be on the hook for payments.

That’s where MyHomeCT comes in. The new state program launched in late April hopes to help homeowners stall foreclosure and other home-related debt. And it has partnered with 20 resource hubs across the state to help get the message out.

Iris O’Halloran is one of the many technical assistants who can help homeowners in Fairfield County apply.

She starts every day with the hope of helping families stay in their homes despite them hitting financial hard times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Come see me and I’ll gladly help you. And I’ll be happy when you get your grant,” O'Halloran said. She’s with Building Neighborhoods Together, a housing counseling agency in Bridgeport. The organization is one of 20 helping the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority – the administering entity – get the word out.

The program can help income-eligible homeowners with up to $30,000 in grants that don’t have to be repaid thanks to funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

As she shuffles a stack of fliers she hopes to distribute after her shift, O’Halloran says the program is a step in the right direction. So far she’s helped about 40 people apply.

“For them, it’s devastating. Some of them are very old people that have been in [their] homes forever, and it’s sad. I’ve seen two or three of my clients start crying in front of me, and I feel like ‘Oh, my God, what can I do for this person?’ You know, and this is great for them,” she added.

Only one of her clients has told her they got notice of qualifying for the program so far, but she expects many more, she said.

The program is open to homeowners who make up to 150% of the area median income. That differs by town, but in Bridgeport that’s an income of $168,900 a year for a family of four. The property must be an owner-occupied one- to four-unit house, and the homeowner must have experienced a COVID-related financial hardship after Jan. 21, 2020, after the onset of the pandemic.

The program is funded with $123 million in federal pandemic relief dollars awarded to Connecticut. And MyHomeCT is just one of many programs being launched across the country to help struggling homeowners. Money can help owners become current or make future payments on their mortgage, homeowner associations fees, taxes and more.

Interested residents can apply online and in person. An application is estimated to take 30 minutes, and approval can take up to 60 days, according to CHFA. Resource hubs are available to help applicants along the way and beyond.

“If you owe more than $30,000, we encourage you to still come in because [Building Neighborhoods Together] also does pre-foreclosure counseling. If there is somebody who owes more than $30,000, we’ll do the intake with them and then possibly try to work something out with their mortgage company,” said Lizbeth DiFabbio, BNT’s housing counseling manager.

She said having the program team up with housing counseling agencies across the state can give residents in need both short-term and long-term solutions. Beyond helping people apply, BNT can help applicants pinpoint if they need to modify their mortgage, transition out of their home and more.

And that’s the goal of the program, said Nandini Natarajan, the CEO of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. The program was drafted last fall, but it took several months to get approval from the federal government. In the meantime, Natarajan said, CHFA ran a pilot program.

The pilot program not only helped more than 300 homeowners, but it also showed the agency what would work best.

“We learned that outreach was going to be a big part of our strategy, because in order to really make it effective, people have to know about it. And it’s a complicated application, so we want to make sure that homeowners have the support they need,” Natarajan said.

The program comes a couple of months after another federally funded program, UniteCT, closed its doors. While UniteCT was created for renters, it has helped nearly 10,000 landlords across the state, according to the program’s dashboard.

Natarajan said MyHomeCT is being cautious of double dipping and hopes the program can help homeowners who need it the most. A portion of funds are also being set aside for lower-income homeowners.

As of the end of May, the program had about 2,000 applications in the pipeline. And overall, it hopes to help around 4,000 applicants.

Natarajan said she’s hopeful the U.S. Department of Treasury might allocate more funds if the need is greater than what the state has been awarded so far. Nonetheless, she said proactive action has been crucial during this time. While some worry the country might head into a housing crisis similar to the one after the 2008 financial crash, Natarajan said it’s unlikely.

“I think it’s played a very key role in ensuring that we don’t have the same loss of homes that was widespread after the financial crisis of 2008 to 2009. I think proactive action has really helped provide a buffer. We’re in a very different place, and as MyHomeCT launches we’ll be able to prove that respite people need,” Natarajan said.

Connecticut recorded 39 foreclosures this February, compared to the highest monthly foreclosure rate of 753 in February 2010, according to data from CHFA.

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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