An old house with row houses next to it at the corner of 4th and Hickory streets in Warren, Pa., on a sunny spring day. (Shutterstock Photo/woodsnorthphoto) Warren, PA
An old house with row houses next to it at the corner of 4th and Hickory streets in Warren, Pa., on a sunny spring day. (Shutterstock Photo/woodsnorthphoto)

Applicants could get as much as $1,000 per month for mortgage payments for six months. The deadline to apply is Wednesday.

Pennsylvania homeowners who are having trouble making their mortgage payments might be able to get support to help get caught up—but they need to act soon. 

The deadline to apply for grants through the state’s Pandemic Mortgage Assistance Program is Wednesday.

The program, which is being administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency,  provides Pennsylvania homeowners experiencing hardship as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic with help making their mortgage payments.

It might be a lifeline that many state residents could desperately use. According to US Census data from July, nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania adults (24.4%) can’t afford their monthly housing expenses, meaning they either missed their most recent housing payment or aren’t confident in their ability to make their next payment. That same data shows that half of all Pennsylvania adults live in a household in which someone lost employment income since March.

More than 2,200 Pennsylvanians already have applied for mortgage assistance through the program, according to PHFA, and the agency has approved $1.7 million in funding.

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The mortgage assistance program stems from the CARES Act that was passed in March. Pennsylvania received nearly $4 billion dollars to assist state residents experiencing financial hardship, and lawmakers earmarked $175 million of that for rental and mortgage assistance programs. 

Assistance from the program is provided in the form of a grant—meaning, it does not have to be repaid. Homeowners can receive up to $1,000 per month for mortgage payments for six months, for a maximum total of $6,000. If funding is approved, payment is sent directly to the lender. 

Applicants must meet certain eligibility criteria: 

  • They must have an owner-occupied property (consisting of one or two units) located in Pennsylvania and secured by a mortgage. 
  • They must have become unemployed after March 30, 2020 or had their annual income reduced by at least 30%, for reasons related to COVID-19. 
  • Their annual household income must not exceed the Area Median Income for their household size. 

The Philadelphia Unemployment Project has maintained a major outreach initiative to spread awareness about the program, and they’ve seen a big spike in interest recently.

“Our phones are blowing up,” said Ashley Griffiths, Mortgage Advocate with the PUP. “Other assistance is going away and people are exhausting their savings, so now they are looking for any sources of help.” 

Richard L. Morris, Director of Housing for the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, said his agency “had a rush of people at first, but then it died down. The enthusiasm people had at the beginning seems to have died down for some reason.” 

He noted that local residents in that area have access to some “fairly robust resources” at the county level.  

Morris said some would-be applicants might have been negatively impacted from an eligibility standpoint by other pandemic-related financial resources they received from the government, such as enhanced unemployment benefits. In some cases, he said, this could have put them over the income limits, even though that was money they only received for a limited time.

“Maybe there should have been an exclusion for that, since it was just temporary income,” he said. 

Meanwhile, everyone involved is stressing the need for homeowners to act fast if they want to have a chance at receiving aid. 

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PHFA spokesperson Scott Elliott said applicants can prevent unnecessary delays or possible rejections by reviewing the instructions carefully.

“One of the biggest problems has been incomplete applications,” he said. “Some people leave parts of the application blank or don’t provide requested supplementary documents.”

To help people, PHFA has posted a checklist on its website for applicants to use. The agency  also produced a 4-minute instructional video with three tips for properly completing an application.

“We think those two items are helping more applicants get their applications done correctly the first time they apply,” Elliott said.

PUP also hosted several online information sessions to answer questions about the program. They posted a recording of one of those sessions on their Facebook page

Homeowners can complete an application online at https://PMAP.phfa.org