More than 1.3 million households have had their mortgages modified through the federal government’s 17-month-old Making Home Affordable program, known by its older acronym HAMP (for Home Affordable Modification Program), but countless others are still struggling with the prospect of foreclosure
“Many Americans are still facing the fear and uncertainly of losing their home to foreclosure,” confirms Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury.
So to sound a louder alert for distressed homeowners about the availability of help, Treasury, HUD and The Ad Council on Wednesday launched a national multimedia public service campaign for this free program. The Ad Council plans to distribute public service announcements and collateral material to more than 33,000 media outlets, which have donated ad space.
Make Home Affordable’s website shows nine TV spots (in English and Spanish), six radio spots, 22 print and outdoor ads, and a library of downloadable web banners. The PSAs urge homeowners seeking assistance to visit the program’s website or to call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) to determine their eligibility. “These public service announcements will help us to reach at-risk borrowers now, while they are still current on their payments,” says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.
The campaign, created pro bono by New York-based ad agency The Kaplan Thayer Group, focuses on 11 homeowners in eight states (Texas, Illinois, Ohio, California, New Jersey, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Florida), who through illnesses, job losses or both were in danger of losing their homes until they took advantage of the program.
Beth Shanley, a spokesperson for The Ad Council, says the owners were located through mortgage companies with which they were involved in HAMP modifications. “We were pleased that we wound up with a diverse number of homeowners, from across the country, who were willing to share their [stories],” she said.
Two-minute-long videos that are being aired on YouTube provide unscripted testimony from homeowners who kept their houses because of HAMP. They include:
• A middle-aged couple, Curtis and Darlene, who have lived in their house in Chicago 37 years. In 2006, Curtis suffered a seizure and then got laid off from his job. They contacted their lender, who told them about HAMP, which allowed them to cut their monthly mortgage payment in half and get a fixed mortgage with “a generous interest rate”;
• Jacqueline, who has lived in her home in Hialeah, Fla., 22 years, but lost her job as a building consultant in 2009. She, too, had learned about HAMP through her lender and was able to lower her interest rate to the point where she had enough money to allow her son to continue his college education; and
• Joseph in Dorchester, Mass., who got laid off from his job as a construction worker last December. HAMP helped him reduce his monthly mortgage payment by $1,500 and lower his interest rate to 5%, from 8%.
For those unfamiliar with the HAMP program, it starts as a three-month trial modification for eligible homeowners with mortgages under $729,750 that are held by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and are dated before Jan. 1, 2009. Eligible owners are either in default or at risk of going into default (i.e., their cash reserves are below $25,000), and their mortgage payments must currently exceed 31% of their monthly incomes. Owners must prove they can make modified mortgage payments during the trial period before they are eligible to move into permanent modification status.
The program has had trouble gaining traction, as foreclosure numbers show. For the first six months of 2010, foreclosure filings rose 8% to 1.96 million, compared to the same period a year ago, according to RealtyTrac. That firm's CEO, Jim Saccacio, recently warned of “a massive number of distressed properties and underwater loans [that] continue to sit just below the surface, threatening the fragile stability of the housing market.”
Some reporting, such as that done by the nonprofit ProPublica, has suggested that lenders and servicers have contributed to the slow pace of modifications.
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.