Daniel Berrisford suffered a series of setbacks 18 months ago that began with a broken hip and led to other injuries and multiple surgeries.
The injuries did more than rob the 60-year-old Cedar Lake man of his health. They cost Berrisford his business. They likely also would have cost him his home of 20 years if not for a government program he found out about from his disability attorney.
It’s the Hardest Hit Fund, administered in the state by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority through the Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network. The fund will cover the mortgage payment, including principal, interest, taxes and insurance for eligible homeowners while they re-establish themselves financially or cover the past due amount for formerly unemployed individuals who have returned to work.
In Crown Point, the program came to the rescue of another man who was about to lose the home where he had raised his family and ran what had been a successful business. The man had missed several payments over time and his situation became exacerbated when his business suffered a sharp decline in recent years.
The resident, who did not want to be identified, said he tried seven times to get his home refinanced. Every time, however, the lenders would say he had failed to provide the necessary information to obtain the refinancing.
Losing his home would have been a traumatic experience for the elderly man.
“I raised my family here. It would have been terrible,” he said.
Then he found out about the program that was being operated locally out of Gary, but was skeptical it could provide any assistance.
“I thought there is no possible way that the city of Gary is going to be able to help me in this,” he said.
He later found out that it was a federally funded program covering people around the state, but he was concerned about being caught up in bureaucratic red tape with no solution to his problem.
Even though he thought it was a long shot, he decided to give it a try.
“I had very little confidence that anything was going to happen and I was completely wrong.”
Thanks to the assistance he received, he hopes to be current with his mortgage by October or November.
“People need to know about the program,” he said.
Judith Samson, Gary Community Development Department programs manager and HUD counselor, and HUD Counselor Johnnie Ragland work on the program out of the Department of Community Development’s office at 839 Broadway. While based in Gary, the two serve people from throughout Lake County. Also providing assistance in Northwest Indiana is the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northwest Indiana’s office in Merrillville and the Housing Opportunities’ office in Valparaiso.
The program started in Gary in 2013 and Samson estimates they have been able to help 136 families since then. The program was originally scheduled to end next year, but it may be extended.
Samson said the number of people seeking help goes up and down, but she estimated the office has averaged three to five referrals a week. She said there have been sufficient funds to service all the customers who qualified for assistance.
“No one had to be turned away because of lack of funds,” Samson said.
The program can provide up to $30,000 in assistance, including covering insurance costs, taxes and homeowners’ association fees for up to two years, for qualified applicants. The money can be used for reinstatement of a mortgage, for loan modification or for an unemployment bridge program, in which a mortgage payment can be paid up to 24 months to a maximum of $30,000.
The money has to be paid back within the first five years if the property changes hands, which can include a sale or foreclosure. After the fifth year, the amount owed is reduced by 20 percent until it is eliminated if a person remains in the residence for 10 years.
The Crown Point man was able to have his mortgage reinstated, although Samson said a loan modification could have reduced his payments. The man praised Samson and the other workers at the office for their understanding and assistance.
He takes exception with those who might say government employees don’t care.
“I’m here to say they do, at least from my experience on this program.”
Berrisford, who like the Crown Point man was also skeptical of the program, also praised Samson, who he described as “very professional and a perfectionist.”
He said it turned out to be a very simple program and not only paid off the money he owed to his lender, but will make mortgage payments for him and his wife for the next couple of years while they rebuild their lives.
“It just took a ton of pressure off my head,” said Berrisford, who now is free to focus on other issues.
Not all applicants will need the full $30,000 in order to resolve their situation. Samson said in some cases, people can come back and seek additional help with any money remaining if they undergo another hardship in regard to their mortgage. For instance, a person might receive $16,000 to help cover delinquent payments after he lost his job when the company he worked for closed. The same person could come back to seek further assistance up to another $14,000 if faced with a medical situation that caused additional difficulties in making the mortgage payment.
If the applicant has all the needed documents it is possible that a closing on the deal can take place within 30 days, Samson said. There have been times when she has been able to get a closing done quite a bit quicker.
In August, for instance, she was able to close on a deal to save a Hammond family’s home within 20 days despite using a translator to work with the Spanish-speaking applicant. The family was facing a Sept. 2 sheriff’s sale, Samson said.
“We were able to get that stopped and they are living comfortably now without stress,” she said.
If it is not possible to achieve a resolution and the property is lost, there is another program that will provide up to $7,500 to help families with the transition into new housing, according to Ragland. Of that amount, $2,500 can be used for relocation expenses and security deposit and the other $5,000 can be used to release any liens against the property where they lived. The property has to be left in a condition suitable for selling.
“We try to get them before it gets to that point,” Samson said of the Transition Assistance Program.
“We are not miracle workers, but we can work as diligently and as hard as we can to try to get some type of resolution,” she said.