The U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Ad Council have launched a new series of public service advertisements to bolster awareness of the Making Home Affordable (MHA) program, which offers free resources and assistance for struggling homeowners.
The MHA program includes the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), both of which are designed to help struggling homeowners remain in their current homes through mortgage refinancing, loan modifications and other loss mitigation efforts. Participation rates in both programs have fallen short of expectations.
Recently, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees HARP and HAMP, said it had identified nearly 800,000 additional borrowers who could potentially find relief through HARP. To help serve these borrowers and boost HARP participation rates, the FHFA last year launched a public awareness campaign, including television ads featuring HGTV personality and Power Broker star Mike Aubrey to help raise awareness about the program. In addition, the FHFA launched a new website, www.harp.gov, featuring an expanding array of educational content.
More recently, the FHFA also launched a series of town hall-style meetings in cities where there are concentrations of eligible borrowers. The first of these was held July 8 at the Woodson Regional Library in Chicago, where the FHFA has identified approximately 36,000 residents who are eligible for the program. The second event was held recently in Atlanta.
The third outreach event will be held October 2 in the Detroit Public Library in downtown Detroit. During this event, FHFA officials and panelists will also discuss FHFA's Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative (NSI), a pilot program designed to stabilize neighborhoods hardest hit by the housing crisis.
Announced earlier this year, NSI entails both pre- and post-foreclosure strategies for assisting borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. Detroit is the first pilot city for this new initiative, which involves working with local nonprofits to find solutions that maximize payment relief and home retention.
‘We know that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to helping homeowners and neighborhoods recover,’ says Mel Watt, director of the FHFA, in a statement. ‘Our goal is to get the word out about HARP to borrowers who are current but underwater, and help borrowers who are either delinquent or at risk of losing their home recognize that they too have options. In Detroit, local leaders and community groups are already doing a tremendous amount of work and we applaud their proactive approach. Our event will allow us to coordinate more directly with those trusted sources as we move forward.’
Originally, the FHFA had forecast that 4 million to 5 million borrowers would take advantage of HARP; however, problems with its design, combined with rising interest rates, resulted in lower participation than had been anticipated. In May, the FHFA reported that about 77,000 applications for HARP had been processed in the first quarter – far short of the agency's goals. It was the fourth straight quarter in which HARP refinances declined – however, it should be emphasized that the home refinance volume is down across the board.
The newest round of ads, which will run in both English and Spanish, were created by Chicago-based advertising agency Schafer Condon Carter (SCC). They will run on television and radio, as well as in print, with media organizations donating the airtime and space. The goal of the campaign is to ‘strongly encourage homeowners not to give up hope and remind them that there are free resources available to help,’ HUD states in a press release.
‘This new campaign will broaden the reach of MHA and extend the message of its benefits to more Americans who are struggling every day to meet the financial demands of their mortgages,’ says David Selby, president and managing partner of SCC, in the release. ‘The advertising seeks to resonate with these homeowners by acknowledging the commitment they make to keep their homes, while letting them know that there is additional help available.’
Since 2010, media outlets have donated more than $135 million in airtime and space to run free ads promoting the MHA program's mission.