For Damon Washington, home ownership is about more than just a house.
His East Oak Lane home was passed down to him by his late mother.
“One of the biggest joys I have is keeping my mother’s dream alive being a homeowner,” said Washington.
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But Washington, a certified nurse’s aide, says keeping up financially has been difficult this past year since he contracted COVID-19 last March.
“Everything has been behind ever since,” he said.
Now with the adoption of the American Rescue Plan, new financial assistance is on the way for homeowners like Washington who have fallen behind during the pandemic.
The plan includes nearly $9.7 billion in mortgage and utility assistance for homeowners, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office says is the first dedicated funding to assist homeowners since the pandemic began.
The need for assistance is “tremendous,” said Michael Froehlich, an attorney with Community Legal Services, whose sister agency Philadelphia Legal Assistance has been working with Washington. Froehlich says the aid comes as other help preventing homeowners from losing their homes is scheduled to end this summer.
“In June, come the end of the forbearances and moratoria, that’s when the tsunami of foreclosures could occur unless something steps in to help – and that’s where this $10 billion homeowner rescue assistance fund comes into play,” Froehlich said.
The new funds could also help combat the impact of the pandemic on Black and Hispanic homeowners who may be having trouble making payments because they’ve been affected by COVID-19, he said.
“This hurts the black homeownership rate and it hurts the homeownership and wealth gap between white and Black and Hispanic folks, and so this program is also critically important because unless we have something like this and other programs that exist, our racial wealth gap in this country is just going to continue to increase,” he said.
Froehlich says the money will be sent to the states to set up programs to disperse the funds. He estimates Pennsylvania could get at least $300 million – based on unemployment and the number of people who are behind on mortgages or in foreclosure – but says it could take months for states to set up programs and start getting money to homeowners.
In the meantime, he recommends homeowners who know they are behind or struggling financially contact their mortgage company “and tell them they’re experiencing some kind of COVID or pandemic related emergency and are not able to pay for their mortgage.” Many companies do have programs to help, he said.
In addition, homeowners in Philadelphia can get help by calling the Save Your Home Philly hotline at 215-334-4663.