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Bailout cash comes home to SCV

First in a two-part series

Posted: December 6, 2008 8:20 p.m.
Updated: December 7, 2008 4:59 a.m.
Part of the federal government's $300 billion housing market repair package is trickling down to foreclosed homes in the Santa Clarita Valley's unincorporated areas, but local social workers fear it's not enough.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recently approved about $16.8 million in grant money tied to the fed's sweeping program.

Lois Starr, the county's acting director of housing development and preservation, is in charge of dispensing the county portion of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant money on a "first-come, first-served basis."

On July 30, the U.S. Congress enacted the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, offering up to $300 billion in assistance to troubled homeowners across the country.

The move was intended to revitalize mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by authorizing the Federal Housing Administration to guarantee up to $300 billion in 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages to qualified home buyers.

The money enables the county, through HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, to buy and fix foreclosed properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight.

Some of the 47 unincorporated "target areas" tapped by the county as qualifying for foreclosure aid include the west Santa Clarita Valley, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic, Val Verde, east Canyon Country, west Canyon Country, Lang/Sulphur Spring, Bouquet Canyon and Forest Park, south Antelope Valley and west Antelope Valley.

If every one of the target areas received an equal portion of the HUD money, Stevenson Ranch would receive about $318,000, after the county absorbs $1.6 million to administer the program.

Money for homes is a worthwhile plan but local family victims of foreclosure need food and shelter now, say local social workers.

"There are a lot of families in (the) Santa Clarita (Valley) sleeping in their cars," said Linda Malerba of Lutheran Social Services. "I see three or four a week in my office."

She hopes the federal money will help but fears it will come too late for most families.

"It would be great that these folks who can use this money. Because for many, there is just no way they could buy a house," Malerba said.

Grant money enables qualifying foreclosure victims to apply for purchasing a house without trying to obtain credit.

But, "Their biggest concerns are, ‘Where are we going to sleep tonight?' and ‘How can I keep my kids in the same school?'" Melerba said.

"One of the things I tell them is, ‘Try to stay employed,' but it's hard to stay employed when you're living in your car, when all your clothes are in a big garbage bag," she said.

Keeping jobs and family together becomes far more immediate than buying a house - with or without grant assistance.

"Keeping their lives on course is hard," she said. "It's like being on a hamster wheel."

Recently, a security guard at the Child & Family Center found a homeless pregnant mother of two young children in the parking lot, he said.

"What we're seeing is available housing filled up by those who have lost their homes who take advantage of these type of grants," said Ari Levy, the center's clinical psychologist.


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