By ERIKA NIEDOWSKI
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) â¿¿ Rhode Island has spent over 60 percent of $79 million available in a federal foreclosure prevention program, and housing officials say the state is on track to draw down the rest in the coming months.
Nearly $48 million in Hardest Hit Fund money had gone to about 2,560 homeowners by the end of December, Rhode Island Housing officials said Thursday. Over $5 million more has been approved but not finalized. The funds generally go toward mortgage payments made on behalf of qualified homeowners.
The spending was slow at first partly because fewer people applied than expected; federal officials also said some lenders initially resisted participating. But Rhode Island Housing, the quasi-public agency that administers the Hardest Hit Fund program in the state, says it will stop accepting applications at the end of January because it expects to have the rest of the money committed.
Rhode Island Housing Executive Director Richard Godfrey described the program as highly successful â¿¿ so successful, in fact, that the agency has asked the state's congressional delegation for $35 million more. The additional funding would allow the agency to extend the program for a year and help about another 1,200 homeowners make their mortgage payments, he said.
"We're very sad that we've run out of money because Rhode Islanders are still struggling," Godfrey said.
Andrea Risotto, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees the program, said the overall funding level is capped under federal law at $7.6 billion, and the amount each state is getting is also set. Chip Unruh, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, said the delegation has asked Treasury if unspent funds from other Hardest Hit states might be used in Rhode Island.
The Obama administration launched the Hardest Hit Fund in 2010 to provide assistance to the states most affected by the housing and economic downturns. It operates in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Rhode Island was selected because of its high unemployment rate, which is now 10.4 percent.