ATLANTA -- A year after the federally funded program started taking applications, HomeSafe Georgia came under fire for failing to help more families fight foreclosure. But just two months later, the department tasked with running the program says things have changed.
"The news coverage quite honestly has been great. That's certainly helped get the word out," said Phil Foil, the deputy commissioner for the Department of Community Affairs.
In April, HomeSafe Georgia promised to bump up its marketing campaign and ease the rules on who could qualify. Why? In the first year of the program, it received about 6,000 applications.
Only about 900 people in that stack qualified. In just two months since then, the DCA told 11Alive it has received more than 2,300 applications. Four hundred of those have already been approved, helping to dole out $11 million to families in need.
David Thorton was one of those recently approved. He stood in line at the World Congress Center the summer of 2010 along with thousands of others hoping to get his mortgage refinanced. He waited in line more than 48 hours only to be told there was nothing the banks could do. He had just about given up hope when he heard about HomeSafe.
"Oh, you don't know the days and nights that I've not slept because this is my home," Thornton said. "When they said I was approved, I was shouting."
HomeSafe has already hired eight new employees to keep up with the ever increasing case load and plans to hire several more.
"We are actually working Saturdays now, and we are getting ready to add a night shift into our processing area," Foil said.
They've also partnered with nonprofits like D&E Group to spread the word, and give homeowners one-on-one assistance. D&E holds boot camps every Thursday to help homeowners find the right program, whether it's a remodification or mortgage assistance.
"We'll work all the options to see what we can get you," said Keisha Harris, D&E's COO.
Harris says getting the paperwork in order and understanding the process and programs can make all the difference. She also applauds HomeSafe for using the criticism it faced wisely, to make improvements.
"We're now getting clients results within a month," Harris said. "They've even extended the guidelines or opened the guidelines so more people can be approved."
The federally funded program has $340 million to help 18,000 families by 2014. So far, it has only spent $31 million of it.