MATTHEWS, N.C. — Homeowners banking on mortgage help are growing more desperate as foreclosure notices start to arrive. They expected financial assistance from the NC Homeowner Assistance Fund months ago, but the pandemic program remains slow to deliver.
The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency hired Innovative Emergency Management to oversee the federally-funded pandemic initiative. As of last week, IEM had received roughly 2,300 complaints and questions, most related to payment and processing time.
Brianne Bachman of Matthews is one of the thousands of applicants waiting for approval and payment. The 37-year-old is five months behind on her mortgage and her lender has started the foreclosure process.
"I'm very sad about that," she said through tears. "I worked very hard to get this home and I really don't want to lose it."
She moved in back in 2016 and lives with her mother, who works part-time. Bachman lost her job as a nanny when the pandemic hit. She said she's battling a traumatic brain injury from a car crash and has since applied for disability.
In the meantime, she's struggling to pick which medications to refill and which bills to pay.
"My anxiety is through the roof," she said. "It's just so exhausting."
As she's spent months waiting for an answer about her NCHAF application, Bachman said the state has failed to deliver even basic communication.
"It was just a brick wall," Bachman said. "To just be so let down, it just breaks my heart."
An August internal audit flagged a need for the state's contractor, IEM, to be more proactive with its communications. The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency previously told WCNC Charlotte that effort was well underway, as was an initiative dedicated to removing roadblocks to speed up the process.
IEM's nearly $23 million contract with the state makes it clear "time is of the essence." Records show the state chose the North Carolina-based "historically underutilized" business over five others that met the program's basic requirements, noting IEM's "prior experience with successful disaster recovery programs."
The state hasn't penalized the company as of yet, but also hasn't paid IEM for its services since January, as NCHFA disputes a bill and the company hasn't followed up with any new invoices.
"We want to start by saying we recognize that processing times have been longer than anticipated, and we know these delays cause additional stress for already vulnerable homeowners," IEM Communications and Marketing Manager Carla Juarez said. "We are working closely with the Agency and key stakeholders to make necessary improvements. We continue reaching out to mortgage servicers and lenders to onboard them and decrease the time for this initial step. Additionally, we have been able to further streamline and expedite payments processing to servicers within our system."
Juarez said the company is seeing continued progress as a direct result.
"We continue to assess and reassess our systems and processes to improve the applicant experience," she added. "That said, we know that there are still applicants who are waiting, and we are diligently working to help them as quickly as possible."
WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to WCNC Charlotte by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
NCHFA reports more than 4,000 applicants are already approved for the program but haven't been paid. Meanwhile, another 4,500 are awaiting initial approval.
Back at Bachman's house, she has since received a rare, positive sign. Her application appears to be finally moving forward, thanks in part to a nudge from WCNC Charlotte.
"It's so exciting," she said, smiling. "Nothing was happening until you came into the picture."
Both WCNC Charlotte and NCHAF have alerted Bachman's lender that her application is in progress.
The progress is a glimmer of hope for one homeowner, as thousands of others hold out hope for good news too.