Printed on: April 30, 2013

A helping hand

Idaho housing agency helps people stay in homes

By CHRISTINA LORDS
clords@postregister.com

Susan Winters was up against a wall.

Her husband fell ill four years ago, and after going to doctor after doctor, no one could tell her what was wrong with him.

What she did know, however, was that it left him unable to work.

With only her income from the North Fremont Junior-Senior High School coming in, Winters said they were on the verge of losing their St. Anthony home.

That's when someone suggested she contact the Idaho Housing and Finance Association.

"I can't tell you how many tears I shed when they called and said, 'We can help you,' " she said. "We thought we were going to lose it. We were really scared and really far behind on our (payments.)"

The association is a quasi-governmental agency that is the administrator of affordable housing resources governed by a board of commissioners. The association, which has its headquarters in Boise, has branch offices throughout the state, including in Idaho Falls.

The association was able to act as an intermediary to Winters' lender, eventually getting her house payments down to a more manageable amount.

Susan Semba, vice president of homeownership lending for the association, said cases such as Winters' often can be addressed by the association's free housing counseling services.

The counseling, made possible by a partnership through the Idaho Partners for Homebuyer Education, is available to any resident statewide -- regardless of income.

The counseling largely focuses on pre-purchase advice, usually for first-time buyers, and foreclosure prevention for those who face losing their home.

Renters; potential homebuyers; those at risk for homelessness; or those having difficulty paying rent, utilities or a mortgage can benefit from the counseling, Semba said.

"We encourage (people in trouble to) contact your lender right away," she said. "That's where our counselors can help. After we talk to a homeowner and get authorization, we can contact their lender and we can do some of the leg work.

"Oftentimes people just don't know what to ask."

Counselors conduct confidential interviews with those facing housing problems to discuss their needs and help them tap into applicable resources, Semba said.

The association's homebuyer education program provides classes to anyone looking to purchase a new home.

The classes are provided throughout the state and online to outline what new buyers will face with budgeting needs, home insurance and realtor information. They also stress the importance of establishing good credit and setting up home inspections, Semba said.

More than 26,500 people have taken the homebuyer education courses since the program's inception in 1999.

The association also facilitates residential mortgage loans to help low- to moderate-income borrowers purchase homes, including down payment assistance options.

The association provides rental assistance programs, and administers grant funds to those struggling with homelessness.

Winters said the association helped her secure $6,000 in federal stimulus funds to help her stay in her home.

She was even able to pay off her home loan at the beginning of April.

"We were so blessed and so humbled," Winters said. "This allows me to pay it forward to someone else."

Reporter Christina Lords can be reached at 542-6762.

By the numbers

Idaho Housing and Finance Association contributions to the Idaho Falls area by the numbers:

$874,182

In grant funds for emergency shelter, housing opportunities for people with AIDS and HIV and supportive housing programs in 2012

$7 million

In rental assistance for 1,681 families in 2012

$5.3 million

Generated by the associations' Collateral Support Program for small business loans in 2012

$738 million

For more than 10,000 home loans since 1978

For more information

Call (877) 888-3135 or go to the website idahohousing.com for information on housing counseling.