An allocation from Oregon lawmakers will allow homeowners to continue to receive counseling and meet with lenders to avoid foreclosures.
But the $659,300 set aside Wednesday by the Legislative Emergency Board will continue the program only through March, when the full Legislature will be back in session.
The program handled 1,200 cases in its first full year ending June 30, but almost 40 percent (472) came in during the final quarter. In July, 196 new cases were received, and in August, 187.
“Oregonians still continue to struggle” despite recent economic improvements, says Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. “There are Oregonians still in their homes because of this program.”
Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, says as of June, about 23,000 Oregonians were 90 days late on mortgage payments, and 41,000 were “underwater,” the market value of their homes being less than the amount they owe on their loans.
According to the RealtyTrac website, five Oregon counties are in the “high” category of foreclosures. Washington County is listed with 965 foreclosures and 1,295 homes for sale.
Four others are in central Oregon: Deschutes, 452 foreclosures and 2,869 homes for sale; Crook, 133 foreclosures and 579 homes for sale; Jefferson, 87 foreclosures and 435 homes for sale; Wasco, 61 foreclosures and 225 homes for sale.
The program allows homeowners to meet with locally based housing counselors, paid through the state Department of Housing and Community Services. The counselors advise homeowners about mediation and foreclosure avoidance.
About $1.25 million remains of $4.2 million that lawmakers approved in the current two-year budget for housing counseling.
The agency had requested $1.1 million from the state emergency fund, but got slightly more than half that.
Once they undergo local counseling, homeowners can request to meet with lenders to negotiate their situations. Those mediation sessions are paid through the state Department of Justice.
The Emergency Board consists of 20 lawmakers who meet between sessions to decide budget matters. As of the board’s most recent meeting in May, it had spent only $98,700 of the $26.2 million available from the emergency fund, and $10.6 million of the $46.9 million that lawmakers set aside for specific programs, but delegated actual release to the board. These are known as special-purpose appropriations.
Money left unspent after the board’s final meeting Dec. 10 will revert to the state general fund, and carried over to the 2015 Legislature, which starts Jan. 12.
It’s likely that a chunk of the state emergency fund will go toward forest firefighting costs that are not covered by the state budget, landowner contributions and an insurance policy.
Among other items approved by the board Wednesday:
• For 25 mental health coordinators for older adults in nine regions, $3.1 million from a previous appropriation, including a statewide coordinator in the Addictions and Mental Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority.
Lawmakers set aside $26 million for various senior service needs, including $3.5 million for expansion of mental health services. The other $390,000 was released by lawmakers in May for planning and training connected with the expansion.
• For three temporary workers for Oregon’s medical marijuana dispensary program, $496,541, drawn from fees charged to pending applicants. The program has received 500 applications and licensed more than 200 dispensaries, but Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, says there are not enough staffers to inspect dispensaries and operate the program.
Lawmakers authorized dispensaries in 2013, although the first ones were licensed this year after rules were drawn up. Cities and counties could impose one-year moratoriums, but those will expire in May. (A total of 142 of Oregon’s 242 cities and 26 of 36 counties did so.)
• For security costs for the recent International Association of Athletic Federations World Junior Championships in Eugene, $511,996 from the emergency fund to TrackTown USA, the Eugene nonprofit that put on the event. State allocations for similar purposes were made after the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, both held in Eugene.
At least two more comparable events are scheduled for Oregon: the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships in Portland, and the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene.