Mortgage money

The Lawton Housing Authority has CARES funding available to help those who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments due to COVID-19.

Lawton Housing Authority is looking for residents who are having trouble paying their mortgages because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City of Lawton assigned the housing authority the city’s share of Community Development Block Grant funds designated under the federal CARES Act to help meet the needs of residents and entities experiencing problems because of the pandemic. While the funds are broad-based — they can be used to purchase personal protection equipment or reimburse staff time, for example — some funding came to entities to help low-income residents cover living expenses.

Christine James, the city’s housing and community development supervisor, recommended Lawton’s CARES Act CDBG funds be designated to the Lawton Housing Authority, saying it wasn’t necessary for the City of Lawton to “reinvent the wheel” because the housing authority already had programs in place for qualified low-income residents.

Jervis Jackson, director of Lawton Housing Authority’s Continuum of Care, said while the first round of CARES Act funding was focused on paying utility bills, the program was expanded to include rental assistance and now to mortgage assistance.

While he knows there is a need, Jackson said only three residents have used the mortgage assistance program. That’s why he’s putting out a call to residents who could meet the qualifications.

Unless those people begin applying, administrators will have to shift those funds into other categories; most likely, the rental assistance program that has proven incredibly popular, said Jackson. The funding has to be spent by May, under guidelines from the City of Lawton.

“The money is here and I know someone needs assistance,” Jackson said.

The federal criteria is specific: the need must be COVID-related, Jackson said, explaining that could mean the loss of a job or job hours that has caused money problems. He said such problems have been especially acute among females in the community, explaining many mothers have had children at home because of school closures or virtual learning, and those mothers either had their hours cut or lost their jobs because they needed to be home.

“People aren’t aware,” he said of the program that includes $220,000 in funding designated for mortgage assistance.

As with rental assistance, the program can help qualified applicants “get caught up” when they’ve fallen behind with mortgage payments. There is no cap on the award, he said, explaining assistance will be provided as long as the funding is available.

There are income guidelines: residents must be low-income under federal definitions to qualify. But Jackson said low-income is defined federally as earning 80 percent of the average median income, which for a family of three or four is $42,000 to $44,000 annually.

He said he expects the need for mortgage and rental assistance to continue to increase as the court system begins to open again and landlords and mortgage companies begin to take their tenants/borrowers to court. And, a larger number of those needing help will be outside the housing authority’s traditional clients, those in the very low to extremely low income range.

Applications are available at the housing authority office, located 609 SW F Avenue. The phone number is 353-7392.