LAWRENCVILLE, Ga. (AP) -- State leaders vow to use a state-run program to help more families facing foreclosure, but critics still worry that too few homeowners will qualify for help.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs and Gwinnett County officials on Thursday announced a metro Atlanta kickoff for HomeSafe Georgia.
Though critics say the program has not moved fast enough to help struggling homeowners, state officials pledged to speed assistance and greatly increase the number of families helped by the program.
Georgia Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Mike Beatty tells The Gwinnett Daily Post that about 2,100 Georgia families have been helped in the early stages of the seven-year program.
Statewide, Beatty says the DCA intends to ramp up its efforts to reach its goal of helping 18,000 Georgia families.
State officials made the comments at a Thursday news conference in Gwinnett County, where several communities have been hard-hit by the housing crisis.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that metro Atlanta's foreclosure rate is more than twice the national average. The state ranked fifth nationally in foreclosure filings in September, according to real estate research firm RealtyTrac.
But critics contend that requirements to qualify for the help are overly strict.
A state reports shows that of the nearly 9,000 applicants who had applied through June, only 14 percent had been approved, with about half of all applications having been withdrawn by the applicants or denied.
"The approval rates are low and the denial rates are consistently high," said Karen Brown, director of the Home Defense Program of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, told the Journal-Constitution. "I think that reflects that the eligibility requirements are still too strict."
Eligible borrowers receive a zero percent interest loan, which can be forgiven over five years if the borrower stays in their home.
For example, if an approved borrower is four months behind on a loan, HomeSafe will make the loan current and make payments for the next 14 months, with the borrower required to pay up to 5 percent of monthly household income. A current but struggling borrower could get 18 months of payment assistance.