COLUMBIA, SC — Richland County resident Foreace Johnson came dangerously close to losing his Lake Carolina home to foreclosure this year.
A devastating diagnosis of colorectal cancer in June 2012 body-slammed the 53-year-old truck driver, just a year after he’d purchased the 2,125-square-foot house – his first one.
The state’s federally funded $295 million foreclosure prevention program, SC HELP, kept a roof over Johnson’s head.
South Carolina residents have used only about a third of the money that was allocated to the state in March 2010 by the U.S. Treasury Department because it was one of the hardest hit housing markets in the country as a result of the Great Recession.
The nonprofit S.C. Housing Corporation set up the SC HELP program to administer the assistance. Through July, the program has dispensed about $98 million in foreclosure assistance, including $73 million in prevention assistance and $25 million in committed funds, the housing authority said.
The assistance is targeted toward responsible borrowers, according to its guidelines and more than 98 percent of the 5,876 families assisted by the program are still in their homes.
While foreclosures are falling – down in July by 3.95 percent to 2,697 units from June, according to RealtyTrac – many families are still struggling.
Johnson, who may be the prototypical candidate for the under-utilized foreclosure assistance in South Carolina, said he was “shocked” to get the life-changing mortgage help, and even more surprised the program rescued him from arrears.
“I absolutely am blessed,” said Johnson, who didn’t know about the foreclosure assistance until trouble hit his doorstep.
The bleeding tumor doctors found in his “plumbing,” as Johnson put it, led to two rounds of chemotherapy, surgery, and a temporary colostomy bag, en route to what he now hopes will be a full recovery.
What was supposed to be six weeks out of work on short-term disability turned into three-and-a-half months of missed work instead, on doctor’s orders. That slashed his take home pay to $444 a week from $1,100, he said, making it impossible for him to meet his $989-a-month mortgage after he exhausted his three months’ worth of savings.
Johnson’s former employer, Coca-Cola, stood by him for a time, he said, reassigning him from the road to a lesser-paying administrative job, for instance. But in May, when Johnson couldn’t return to performing his night time duties delivering raw materials, he lost his $55,000-a-year job altogether, he said.
Johnson eventually found himself $7,600 in arrears with his lender and, desperate for help, fell victim to a phantom Philadelphia-based company that contacted him saying they could help him. Johnson lost $400 to that company before finding the state program that helped him get caught up and approved him for up to two years of mortgage assistance – if he needs it.
“I probably won’t need it because I had an interview today,” said an optimistic Johnson, who had his first interview Tuesday since losing his job.
In addition to getting mortgages current and helping homeowners pay monthly mortgages while they look for work, the program also helps move families into rentals when their homes cannot be saved.
The program is for responsible homeowners who have fallen on hard times. There are no income limits to use the program, but participants cannot be in bankruptcy, and original loans cannot exceed $729,750.
“Our core message is that loss of a job shouldn’t have to mean the loss of your home,” said Clayton Ingram, S.C. Housing Authority spokesman.
“Some people just won’t ask for help. But job loss and foreclosure has hit people from all walks of life and all sections of South Carolina.
“Some people just ignore or deny the situation until it is too late. I hear from people every week who come to SC HELP at the point the house is about to be sold – and could have been saved if we had some more time,” Ingram said. “Don’t wait to apply.”
Getting help in SC
S.C. homeowners who are facing a hardship can get help, regardless of whether they have yet fallen behind on payments. The SC HELP program does not charge a fee.