In just two and a half months, more than 17,000 Michigan homeowners have asked the state to help them pay their mortgage, property taxes, utilities or other costs because of the hardships created during the pandemic.
The Michigan Homeowner Assistance Fund, or MIHAF, was immediately more popular than Mary Townley expected. Townley, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s director of homeownership, said less than a week after the application portal opened on Feb. 14, nearly 9,000 people had applied for help. .
“I knew there was a problem in Michigan, but I didn’t realize it was such a big problem,” she said.
More than $121 million has been made available for grants of up to $25,000 for people at risk of losing their homes due to adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic, such as reduced income or increased living expenses. The grants are limited to families earning no more than 150% of the federal area median income, or $134,250 for a family of four.
So far, the process of sorting applications has been slow, with more than 2,200 completed and only 812 approved as of Friday afternoon. But Townley said more staff are starting this week, bringing the number of workers to 60 and ensuring claims are processed faster.
And while there are nearly 13,000 applications that are still being reviewed, an additional 2,126 households have been approved for funds and are simply waiting for banks or others to indicate they will accept the money.
Townley said the high proportion of applications canceled — nearly half of applications completed — indicates lenders are being flexible with homeowners and creating their own payment plans and workarounds, so lender money state is not required. This is a good thing, she says, because it allows the money to be used in cases where residents have no other options. Other times, cancellations occur if there are duplicate requests or if an owner cannot be reached.
On average, homeowners receive assistance of $8,066. Mortgage assistance is the first request, followed by assistance with paying property taxes and utilities. Others have requested assistance to pay for homes purchased on a land contract or for mobile home loans. Condo fees, home insurance and mobile home park fees are also eligible expenses for the program.
Shama Mounzer, executive director of integration for the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, previously said that the program’s inclusion of overdue home insurance, mobile home payments, land contracts and other fees that are generally excluded means the program is likely to reach more residents.
“That’s another group of people that we haven’t been able to reach in the past,” she said.
The funds are to be used by September 2026, but Townley said she expects them to run out by mid-2024.
“People are in trouble,” she said.
The fund will pay property taxes dating back to 2019, which Towley said he stood up for, even though the pandemic wasn’t acknowledged until 2020.
She said the owners “had great intentions” of paying their 2019 bills, but were unable to do so after losing their jobs or having other expenses in early 2020. The Treasury Department of the State, she said, agreed.
The bulk of those receiving state grants earn less than 100% of the region’s median income, and Townley said many were grateful for the help. One couple, she said, had used up all their savings and weren’t sure they could stay in their house. With help from the state, she said, they were able to do it.
“They’re fine now,” she said. “For a while there, they didn’t think they were doing well at all. It’s wonderful that we have this program.”
For more information or to apply for the program, visit mi.gov/mihafcall (844) 756-4423 or visit a state housing counseling office.