Even though Pennsylvania hasn't been hit as hard as some areas, with mile after mile of homes abandoned because of foreclosures, many homeowners across the state could still use a hand from City Hall, Harrisburg, and Washington in the fight to stem the housing crisis.
So far, local and state efforts are shouldering much of the burden - and racking up impressive successes. Programs being run out of Harrisburg and, notably, the Philadelphia courts, are intervening when financially stressed homeowners face the risk of losing their properties. Their efforts deserve federal aid now, rather than waiting until the crisis deepens.
Fortunately, there's a movement afoot to target more federal bailout funds for programs that prevent Pennsylvanians from losing their homes. The policy changes being sought could benefit New Jersey homeowners as well.
In a sense, this region's problem is a good one to have - that is, its mortgage crisis is not that dire. However, housing advocates and Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators, Arlen Specter and Bob Casey Jr., say that means the state doesn't qualify for a $2 billion pool of competitive grants through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Funds have been restricted to homes already foreclosed upon.
That's why Specter and Casey recently appealed to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to use his administrative authority to ease the restrictions. With the stroke of a pen, they say, Donovan could do more to keep people in their homes.
This afternoon, the Philadelphia-based Save Our Homes Coalition of housing activists will gather with elected officials and homeowners to issue a call for HUD or Congress to make federal funds available for foreclosure-prevention programs. Appropriately, their news conference will be held at the City Hall courtroom where officials have worked so effectively in recent months to forestall home seizures by lenders.
The court-run foreclosure-diversion pilot program under Common Pleas Court Judge Annette Rizzo has enjoyed such success in bringing together lenders and struggling homeowners that it's being used as a model in other states.
On the state level, Gov. Rendell just last week pumped an additional $5 million into a program that helps the unemployed hang on to their homes by providing low-interest bridge loans. This year alone, 2,200 families have been helped. The new funding will aid 550 more homeowners.
President Obama, in his mid-February speech on the housing crisis, applauded communities that have shown initiative and taken "responsibility for this crisis when many others have not." As the president also noted, "Supporting these neighborhood efforts is exactly what we should be doing."