Changes aid Homesafe Georgia in helping more avoid foreclosure - CBS46 News

Changes aid Homesafe Georgia in helping more avoid foreclosure

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

When it comes to foreclosures, Georgia makes the top 10 of states hardest hit. According to Realty Trac, one in every 1,200 Georgia homes is in foreclosure.

Yet millions of federal funds meant to keep people from losing their homes have yet to be spent. The agency responsible is Homesafe Georgia, and they say they have cleaned up their act. But have they?

"Every time we walk in I'm very thankful and blessed that we have a home, you know, somewhere we can call a home," says Keshunda Millbrook, a homeowner who spoke to us about her dealings with Homesafe Georgia.

It's been four years since Dwight and Keshunda Millbrook nearly lost their home. Both lost their jobs within three months of each other and then found out they were expecting.

"I just felt like everything that we worked so hard for would just be, you know, all taken away," Keshunda Millbrook said.

It was Homesafe Georgia to the rescue. The program uses federal funds to prevent foreclosures due to unemployment, underemployment and other financial hardships. The Millbrooks qualified. Four months later, Homesafe Georgia was paying the majority of the mortgage.

"They paid our mortgage for actually 18 months," Dwight Millbrook said.

A year later, veteran Mark Harris' experience with Homesafe Georgia was completely different. Harris was arrested for protesting the loss of his home when the program didn't act quickly enough.

"It was always changing, the goal post kept moving. Once I thought I had all of the requirements in, there was always another requirement," said Mark Harris, former homeowner and Occupy Our Homes Atlanta member.

"It was pretty brutal. They were taking months, and months, and months to do one application," said Impact Group President/CEO Thomas Merkel. The Impact Group helps veterans and others find assistance and avoid foreclosure.

Homesafe Georgia started by promising the U.S. Treasury to help 18,300 Georgians. By the end of the first year, Homesafe's estimates were revised down to 15,100. By the end of 2013, only 4,500 had full approval.

"It's a deliberate process. We're accountable to taxpayers, it's taxpayer money so, we take what we feel are appropriate precautions," said Alison Tyrer, who does marketing and communications for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

"These people are about ready to lose their homes, we need to realize we're not dealing with numbers here, these are people's lives," Merkel said.

Homesafe Georgia made more revisions early this year. They now pay mortgages for up to 24 months. Financial emergencies due to military, medical or death now qualify along with paying up to 12 months of delinquent payments, something that might have saved Harris' home.

"The criteria is not as stringent as it was. They have begun to, speed up the process, there is a sense of urgency," Merkel said.

The changes have increased approvals. From January to June of 2014, more than 1,600 applications have been approved or are in some stage of the process.

"If we were lagging behind, our goal is to catch up in the current years and so far our progress, we've been doing that," Tyrer said.

Homesafe still has $184 million in taxpayer funds to spend and just three years left to spend it. Critics worry that Homesafe won't deliver on their promise.

"There's a lot of people out there that are still hurting. There's a lot of money that needs to be put out there or I believe needs to be paid back to the federal government if it doesn't get used," Merkel. said

Administrators recommend calling first before filling out the application.

There are a couple of reasons why more may not qualify. First, their unemployment may not be involuntary, such as for those who quit their job. Second, those already involved in bankruptcy proceedings may not qualify.

For more information on Homesafe Georgia here's a link to their website.

Here's a link to a county-by-county breakdown of the numbers of those who've been helped by Homesafe Georgia so far.

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