It could be months before $159 million in federal aid reaches jobless North Carolinians trying to stay in their homes.
That was the consensus Tuesday among state officials and those who advise potential recipients of the mortgage relief money.
The U.S. Treasury Department is providing $600 million to North Carolina and four other states where high unemployment is creating a second wave of foreclosures following the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.
At the Consumer Credit Counseling Service’s Fayetteville office, Patricia Tyson said unemployed homeowners are increasing her foreclosure caseload.
“Just about every file I pick up has been loss of employment,“ said Tyson, director of the agency.
Tyson said federal officials could take until summer to decide how to distribute the relief funds.
Margaret Matrone, communications director at the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, is more hopeful.
But Matrone, whose agency will distribute the federal money, said homeowners under threat of foreclosure will have to be patient.
“When people see this money coming, they’re going to say: ‘Oh, I’m in trouble,’” Matrone said. “But the money is not going to be available, probably, for a couple of months on the street.”
Charlene Crowell, a communications manager at the Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, said the faster, the better.
“Our hope would be that, due to the high unemployment, that those administrative procedures could be developed fairly swiftly and certainly shared very broadly with the general public,” said Crowell. ”If you’re a homeowner who is looking at foreclosure, you wanted help, like, yesterday.”
North Carolina was chosen for the aid because of a high number of economically distressed areas with unemployment rates that topped 12 percent last year.
If 12 percent unemployment is a determining factor in the funding formula, five of the Cape Fear region’s 10 counties could be at the front of the line for help.
The state Employment Security Commission isn’t expected to release 2009 unemployment averages for counties until next month.
Using the December rates, however, Scotland (17.1 percent), Lee (14.6 percent), Columbus (13.8 percent), Bladen (12.7 percent), and Robeson (12 percent) counties may be in the running.
Yet foreclosure filings in three of those five counties went down last year.
Tyson attributed the drops to a 6-year-old state program that makes interest-free bridge loans of up to $24,000 to homeowners who lose their jobs and need time to retrain or find another position.
Still, the Center for Responsible Lending’s Crowell said the federal money would be welcome.
“There are a number of people who are holding on for life,“ said Crowell.
Some of them live in Moore County, one of the few places in the Cape Fear region where foreclosure filings are increasing with unemployment.
Tyson said her agency will soon extend office hours in Southern Pines from two to five days a week.
Staff writer Francis X. Gilpin can be reached at gilpinffayobserver.com or 486-3587.