PORTLAND, Maine — People facing foreclosure in Maine have options that housing experts say most might not know about.
On March 7, MaineHousing relaunched the Homeowner Assistance Fund. The program uses federal COVID-19 pandemic relief dollars to help those who fell behind on payments during the pandemic. It is meant to help low- and moderate-income families who suffered financial hardships since January of 2021. Homeowners can receive up to $50,000 depending on their eligibility.
Homeowners can check eligibility and begin the application process online at MaineHomeownerHelp.org.
"There could be a level of despair that kicks in and says, 'I'm so far behind, I'm never going to get this fixed.' Well, this program is designed to help solve for that," MaineHousing executive director Dan Brennan said. "We can fix their problem and move forward."
Another option is to get help from a real estate company. Some offer options to protect the homeowner's credit by either selling the home through a "short sale" or modifying the mortgage, which involves extending the mortgage and spreading out the cost of the missed payments over that longer term.
"I had no idea. I just assumed foreclosure meant the bank was taking the house back. Period. End of story," Lolly Comstock said.
Comstock fell behind on mortgage payments on her condo in Scarborough after her divorce, but she was able to take advantage of this process through Portland-based Keller Williams Realty and the team of Cash Wiseman and Jessica Page.
"It literally put me in a tailspin. I have never been so terrified in my life. I mean, can you imagine being homeless with two small kids? It's just the worst feeling ever," Comstock said. "I was very well off at one point in my life and for many, many years, and this ended up happening to me."
But how she found the Wiseman Group sounds fishy. She got an unsolicited letter in the mail from Wiseman, offering "free help," with "no obligation," that was a "proven win-win."
"I was a little skeptical. I was like, 'Is this a total scam?'" Comstock said.
It was real.
"With the inventory problems we have, the interest rates we have, they probably just think we're looking for a listing to sell a property and get paid on a commission," Wiseman said. "Being in this business, you get paid on commission. We get paid on changing people's lives."
Wiseman's teammate, Jessica Page, has worked on the other side of foreclosures, too, telling people they were behind on their payments. She said getting help is still a difficult process.
"It's a lot of paperwork. You basically have to put your life down on paper and explain why you can't afford your mortgage," Page said. "I think one of the hardest things is for people to ask for help. So I think it's important for people to know there is help out there, you just have to ask for it."
Brennan said most times, people do not fall behind on mortgage payments alone. If they lose income or suffer a hardship, they miss all types of payments, including utilities, car payments, and more.
The HAF allows people to use that money for past due mortgage or tax payments, overdue utility bills including sewer, water and electricity and/or heating fuels. The program can also pay overdue homeowner association dues and fees or the lot rent for a mobile home that is owned by the occupants. For some eligible homeowners, the program will also pay up to three months of future mortgage payments to ensure housing stability.
Hundreds of people in Maine need that help. In 2022, 668 people entered the foreclosure process in Cumberland, York, Oxford, and Kennebec counties alone. Those four counties make up more than half the state's population.
"I'm a problem-solver. I'm not a salesman," Wiseman said.
Ultimately, Comstock found a new apartment with Wiseman's help.
For more information about the Maine Homeowner Assistance Fund and to begin the application process online go to MaineHomeownerHelp.org