New resource available in Montcalm County for paying mortgage or property taxes

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:46 am on Thursday, February 21, 2013

STANTON — The number of foreclosed properties continue to be on the rise in Montcalm County.

The county forfeited 880 parcels in 2009 (from 2007 taxes), 974 parcels in 2010 (from 2008 taxes), 1,180 parcels in 2011 (from 2009 taxes) and 1,200 parcels last year (from 2010 taxes), according to Montcalm County Treasurer JoAnne Vukin.

While property owners are sometimes able to pay their taxes in time to save their properties, many properties end up sold by the county, including 49 parcels in 2009, 59 parcels in 2010 and 112 parcels in 2011.

Property owners have until 5 p.m. on April 1 to redeem last year’s foreclosed properties by paying delinquent 2010 taxes.

Delinquent properties from 2011 will go into foreclosure on March 1, starting the process all over again.

The number of foreclosed properties in Montcalm County aren’t just meaningless statistics. Each delinquent property has a name and a story behind the property owner’s failure to pay.

But as of January, struggling taxpayers now have a new resource to help them retain their properties.

Vukin recently signed a voluntary agreement with the Michigan Homeowner Assistance Nonprofit Housing Corp. to participate in the “Help For Hardest Hit” program, part of a federally funded program designed to help eligible homeowners who are struggling to make mortgage or tax payments and stay in their home.

Michigan received $498.6 million in Emergency Stabilization Act funds in 2010 to operate the Step Forward Michigan program and still has about 90 percent of those funds available.

The rescue funds provided to homeowners do not need to be paid back as long as the homeowner remains in the home for five years. Each year, the program covers 20 percent of the cost, so, at the end of five years, the funds will be entirely covered.

For those who can document some type of financial hardship, the program offers assistance with loan rescue, unemployment mortgage subsidy, mortgage modification plan, principal curtailment and, most recently, delinquent real estate tax payment, which Vukin is most excited about.

“Delinquent tax payment is a new element to the program and it allows homeowners to receive up to $30,000 to pay past due property taxes, or taxes and mortgage payments combined,” Vukin said. “If you have suffered a hardship that is preventing you from making your mortgage payments or paying property taxes, you can get help catching up on those back payments.

“I have been trying to get this information out to as many people as possible because it is a very good opportunity for those who have fallen on hard times and now have some income, to get some help getting back on their feet,” she added.

Vukin said homeowners are 70 percent more successful in obtaining a loan modification and receiving financial assistance when working with certified housing counseling professionals, such as James Buxton who works for Ionia County’s Michigan State University (MSU) Extension.

Buxton is assisting the Montcalm County Treasurer’s Office and he has already successfully helped more than a dozen Montcalm County residents use Step Forward Michigan resources to resolve their housing crisis. He has noticed certain trends with those he helps, including people who lost their jobs due to medical issues, as well as retired couples whose income cannot match the ever-increasing cost of living.

“I had a couple in here last week and they were under the impression that the only thing we could help them pay was their 2010 taxes,” Buxton said. “I told them we can also help with your 2011 and 2012 taxes. They were just beside themselves. This gives them the opportunity to start fresh.”

For free assistance, contact Ionia County MSU Extension at (616) 527-5357, or apply at online.

For more information about delinquent property taxes, call the Montcalm County Treasurer’s Office at (989) 831-7334, or visit online.

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