By Editorial Board
on November 04, 2015 at 4:17 PM, updated November 04, 2015 at 4:18 PM
The federal Home Affordable Refinance Program was added to an orchestra of taxpayer-funded loan modification instruments during the lowest days of the predatory loan and foreclosure crisis, in March 2009.
HARP was designed to aid homeowners whose property values had gone south and who were unable, for that reason, to refinance through traditional means.
The program is available to those whose loans are owned or guaranteed by the federal home loan mortgage giants Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.
“It really is great deal,” said Lou Tisler, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland.
The problem is that too many people in Greater Cleveland who remain eligible for HARP refinancing aren’t availing themselves of this valuable tool to reduce mortgage payments on underwater properties.
Cuyahoga County ranks fourth nationally in the number of homeowners — 6,333 — eligible for HARP who aren’t using it, according to a recent study by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
They have mortgages that are more than 1.5 percent above current market value, owe at least $50,000 and have at least 10 years left on their loan.
Time is of the essence, though. HARP is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016.
In the wake of the Great Recession, too many inner-city neighborhoods across Ohio remain littered with zombie properties — vacant and abandoned properties that are crime scenes waiting to happen. HARP is designed to keep more homes from joining that list.
There are 32,180 homeowners across the state who would benefit from a HARP makeover, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency analysis.
That number again ranks Ohio fourth in the nation behind Florida, Illinois and Michigan.
The feds now are making a concerted effort to contact faith leaders, community housing advocates and others to spread the word that HARP is there to help keep people in their homes. Time is running out.
“We’ve heard borrowers are very skeptical of this program, and rightfully so,” Megan Moore, a special adviser at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, told Plain Dealer financial columnist Teresa Dixon Murray. “You get solicited by phone. You get a piece of mail. And you just don’t believe it.”
Well, believe it. This program is there to help homeowners and their neighbors. Take advantage of it.