The US government has launched a new federal housing programme which aims to help struggling homeowners catch up on their missed mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure.

Under the zero-interest, forgivable loan, the Emergency Homeowners Loan Program (EHLP) will help approximately 30,000 distressed borrowers in the US who are behind their mortgage payments due to unemployment or underemployment.

Salomon Torres, the district director for US Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, said the EHLP will help relieve foreclosure concerns caused by increasing unemployment rates in the Rio Grande Valley. Although the unemployment rate in the US has dropped to 8.7 percent from 9.3 percent since May last year, unemployment rates in the Cameron and Hidalgo counties surged to nearly 12 percent over the same period.

Torres said the unemployment rate has caused many Valley homeowners to skip paying their mortgages.

“This distress translates into lost income for households across the Valley. When that happens, a homeowner has no choice (but) to skip a payment,” he said. “You pick and choose between gasoline, grocery bills or your mortgage payments.”

To qualify for the loan programme, home owners must be at least 90 days behind their mortgage payments, have an average income of at least 15 percent less than what they had in 2009 and still be residing in their homes. Homeowners accepted to the programme will receive one-time assistance to catch up on their mortgage payments and assist with ongoing monthly payments. Loan assistance is limited to a maximum loan amount of US$50,000 or a maximum duration of two years.

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