The Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) helps Pennsylvanians catch up on mortgage payments when they get behind because of circumstances beyond their control, such as an illness. The program was put on hold in July 2011 because of a lack of funding and is not included in Governor Tom Corbett's $27.1 billion budget. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania said leaving it out is a mistake because of the benefit to counties.
"With a typical county experiencing a $3.7 million combined financial impact, ending this program is counter-productive. It's not only helped homeowners gets past rough spots and stay in their homes, it's now resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to the state economy," said Liz Hersh, executive director of HAP.
The benefit comes from a recent analysis of the program done by The Reinvestment Fund, an organization that finances neighborhood revitalization. It found that between 2008 and 2010, HEMAP helped more than 6,100 Pennsylvanians avoid foreclosure, and that the state's $38 million investment in the program during that same time period saw a return of $481 million to the state.
"Whatever money we have to invest in the general fund is very much well worth it. On behalf of other members of my caucus, we'd like to revisit this issue, make it work, put in the commitment we need, and at the very least open this program back up," said State Representative John Taylor (R-Philadelphia County).
On his Twitter feed, Taylor said he stands in support of funding HEMAP at a proper level and will raise this issue throughout the budget process. State Senator LeAnna Washington (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery Counties) is introducing a bill that would open the program again.
"My legislation would earmark $15 million from casino table game proceeds to provide emergency assistance to homeowners through the HEMAP program," said Washington. "My plan does not require new taxes and doesn't take any money from important general fund programs."
But, the governor's office said the exclusion of HEMAP in the budget proposal is not a reflection on the program, but rather a reflection on what the state is facing.
"The financial reality right now is we have to be very prudent with our spending, and we can't spend more than we have, and we have to make tough decisions so we can move on to better times," said governor Spokesman Eric Shirk.
But, several lawmakers and the Housing Alliance's Hersh said not funding it would do more harm than good to Pennsylvania.
"Without HEMAP, more families will lose their homes," Washington said. "There will be more vacant homes in the housing market, further decreasing property values, increasing blight, and compounding the costs to families, lenders, local governments, and lenders."