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Program to help struggling homeowners expands to Hood River County

The economy and the housing market may be recovering in Oregon, but not every homeowner has stopped feeling the effects of the Great Recession that began over five years ago.

For Hood River County homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages, a new program offered by the state may help give them some relief.

The Oregon Housing and Community Services Department recently announced it would be expanding its Rebuilding American Homeownership Assistance Pilot Program to Hood River and other Oregon counties. The program, which started in July 2013 and was only previously available in the greater Portland area, allows refinancing for homeowners who are “struggling with underwater mortgages and are stuck in high interest rates with no options,” according to Margaret Van Vliet, director of Oregon Housing and Community Services.

A home that is “underwater” — also known as having negative equity — is a property where the amount owed on the mortgage is greater than the property’s fair market value. Underwater mortgages can be a symptom of high-interest rate loans, and make it difficult to impossible for some homeowners to refinance their loans at a lower rate.

OHCS reports that a “significant number” of homeowners in Oregon have underwater mortgages. In some counties, a whopping 25 percent of homeowners have properties that are considered underwater.

According to David Peters, housing resource program manager for the Mid-Columbia Housing Authority and the Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation, the state reported in June 2013 that 68 homeowners in Hood River County had loans that were over 90 days past due. Joel Madsen, executive director for both housing organizations, said that “over the past couple years,” 52 people in Hood River County have participated in the state’s Oregon Homeownership Stabilization Initiative programs, which offer assistance with mortgage payments, loan refinancing, and loan preservation. RAHAPP is an OHSI program that is funded through the federal government’s “Hardest Hit Fund,” which was set up by the U.S. Treasury following the onset of the recession in the late 2000s.

Madsen, whose organization works to solve affordable housing issues in the Mid-Columbia region, said he’s pleased to hear of the expansion.

“What’s exciting to us is this is another resource as part of the Oregon Homeowner Stabilization Initiative for folks that have trouble staying in their homes,” he said of the program.

Homeowners must meet a certain amount of eligibility criteria to participate in the program. According to the RAHAPP website, homeowners must be significantly underwater, must be current on existing mortgage payments, cannot own other residential property, and cannot have mortgages that are guaranteed by federal lending programs such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The program’s expansion does, however, increase access to some homeowners by making changes to the loan-to-value ratio as well as a requiring a lower credit score for participation.

RAHAPP offers two refinancing options: a 15-year mortgage at a 4 percent interest rate and a 30-year mortgage at 5 percent with loan amounts of $200,000.

Those who are interested in the program should visit OregonHomeownerHelp.org for information on the program, to take an eligibility quiz, and to submit an online application.

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