A program to help struggling Illinois homeowners with their mortgages has increased the amount of mortgage assistance it can provide.
The Illinois Hardest Hit program, operated by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, can now provide $35,000 in mortgage assistance per household, up from its previous limit of $25,000.
"We found the most common reason otherwise eligible families were unable to be helped was because the amount necessary to bring their mortgage current exceeded the program limit," said Mary Kenney, the authority's executive director.
Most of those denials came in metropolitan areas where home prices — and mortgage payments — are substantially higher than in rural areas.
So far, the program, established in 2011, has helped 7,000 Illinois homeowners in 94 counties.
Illinois Hardest Hit is designed to help homeowners whose income has been reduced by unemployment or underemployment. It provides monthly mortgage payment assistance and also reinstatement assistance to pay mortgage arrearages, fees and penalties.
The monthly assistance pays 100 percent of the mortgage payment owed to the lender for up to 18 months, while the household makes monthly contribution payments to the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
Borrowers are required to pay 31 percent of their gross monthly household income to the authority, with that money electronically withdrawn from their bank account monthly.
An additional 100 families per month are expected to be eligible for mortgage payment support under the new limits, which took effect Monday.
To take part in the program, households must have a documented income reduction of 20 percent due to unemployment or underemployment through no fault of their own.
The assistance is provided as a 10-year forgivable loan, with the assistance forgiven over the last five years of the loan.
New applicants can get more information about the program and apply for it at http://www.illinoishardesthit.org . Homeowners who were denied assistance before Jan. 1 should contact the housing counselor they worked with before to reapply.