Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity has partnered with Pierce County Human Services to provide mortgage assistance to homeowners impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Through this program, we anticipate serving 300 homeowners over the next five months. For details on eligibility requirements and/or to apply for aid, click here. Please note that application intake is done via the Pierce County portal only.
Recently, we spoke to Bryan Schmid, the Affordable Housing Supervisor, Community Services Programs for Pierce County about the program and are glad to share that conversation with you here.
Q: What can you tell us about housing assistance in Pierce County?
A: The County has both a rental assistance and mortgage assistance program. The largest bucket is rental assistance, not only from the CARES dollars but with state funding and some other federal dollars. But we recognize that homeownership is a stabilizing part of the spectrum – the most stable part of the spectrum. We want to be sure everyone is stably housed and if homeowners lose their homes, that trickles down to the rental market.
The County is putting resources into mortgage assistance and foreclosure prevention with the understanding that everything is connected. We want to make sure that even if we can’t get mortgage assistance to people, at least we can provide them with some counselling and get them connected to things that can help them save their homes, like forbearance agreements or loan modifications. We understand that it’s a long process to foreclose on somebody, but we can try to prevent a foreclosure wave from coming next year. It’s about getting out ahead of it.
Q: What kind of eligibility requirements are attached to the mortgage assistance funds?
A: The eligibility is pretty broad-based. You have to be a homeowner living in Pierce County; you have to have an income that is at or below 100% of the Area Median Income; and you have to document some sort of COVID-related impact to your income. It could be loss of job or some other impact – you got ill and couldn’t work or a family member was ill. You have to be behind on your mortgage payments. At present, we can do up to three months of mortgage payments, up to $5,000, covering from March to current. We don’t measure debt-to-income ratios and we aren’t credit-underwriting anybody. It’s basically if you’re behind, your income is below 100% AMI, you own your house, and you’ve had a COVID-related impact, you can get assistance.
Q: What role does Habitat play?
A: We need vendors that have experience in homeownership in order to run this program. The County doesn’t have the bandwidth internally to do this, so we need our non-profit partners in the community to help provide this service. At present, Habitat is our largest vendor for mortgage assistance.
In the bigger picture with homeownership, given the home values in Pierce County and where they’re headed, we need to have partner organizations that do what Habitat does. Gone are the days where we could give 3.5% down payment assistance loans to low-income households to be able to purchase. It just isn’t the reality of the market anymore. It worked in 2010; it does not in 2020. The County understands that homeownership is an important part of the housing continuum, but we need non-profit partners who are developing at a lower cost, with volunteer labor and can provide those subsidies and that intensive homeowner counselling to make sure homeowners are successful.
Q: Anything else you’d like people to know?
A: We want to build as much capacity as we can for foreclosure prevention counselling. This is a start to that. We want to get the word out as much as possible that help is available. There are funds available at present for mortgage assistance. We want to reach under-served communities with that message.