Frank Herrera, Jr., loves playing with his dogs in the backyard of his Southeast Fresno home, where he's lived for nearly 20 years. But after losing his job -- and his foot to diabetes -- the 56-year-old thought he'd lose his home as well.
"Paying I think nearly 2/3 of my Social Security check for my mortgage. And it just got impossible," said Herrera.
He applied for free mortgage assistance through Keep Your Home California, which paid $47,000 toward principal reduction, lowering his monthly payments by $300. Herrera said it will make a huge difference.
"A relief," he said. "I noticed even my blood pressure's gone down. It really works. It's helped me. I can't describe how much it's helped me."
Keep Your Home California recently sent out 14,000 postcards as part of a major marketing push in Fresno County. They hope to help more homeowners like Frank, especially in the Central Valley, among the hardest hit areas by the foreclosure crisis. The state's distributed $610 million of $2 billion in federal aid so far. Steve Gallagher of Keep Your Home California explained the biggest challenge has been getting the word out.
"What we really thought in the beginning was that the money might be gone in a matter of a couple months. But people have to know about these programs," said Gallagher.
So the organization also enlisted the help of TV host Mario Lopez to make commercials in English and Spanish.
To qualify for the Principal Reduction program, a homeowner must:
- have an income no higher than $69,500
- have endured a financial hardship, including medical bills, job loss, or underwater mortgage
- make monthly mortgage payments and stay in the home for five years
For those who don't qualify, the organization has three other homeowner assistance programs including unemployment mortgage assistance, mortgage reinstatement assistance, and transition assistance. Gallagher says the goal is to stabilize communities.
"A home means a lot to people. It's not just an investment. It's where they raise their kids, they have a lot of family memories, so we want to help those people that do want to stay," he said.
To find out if you qualify, visit www.keepyourhomecalifornia.org.