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INDIANAPOLIS — An Indianapolis nonprofit is hoping to keep low-income families in their homes through a relatively new program.

The Indy Affordable Modification Program (IndyAMP) started in 2021 as an emergency response tool to help those struggling to pay their mortgage. Renew Indianapolis’ CEO, Steven Meyer, says the idea came as the city was working on programs related to rental assistance.

“We approached them with the idea that we should have a companion program for homeowners to make sure that they weren’t subject to foreclosure,” said Meyer.

The program allows homeowners affected by COVID-19 to refinance their mortgage debt, including late payments and fees, at a below-market interest rate for up to 30 years. The mortgage would then be owned by Renew Indianapolis.

Meyer says this lets them intervene sooner if a homeowner is experiencing troubles. He said they weren’t sure what to expect when they started the program.

“We weren’t really sure what to expect as the pandemic started and continued,” said Meyer. “So as we’ve progressed through this program, we’ve also narrowed and focused the program more towards lower-income homeowners, especially in areas that were hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Helene Rodriguez works with some of those homeowners hit hardest by the pandemic. She works for a HUD counseling agency, referring clients to where they can get mortgage help. She says the pandemic has affected their finances dramatically.

“It has been very difficult, especially when you have no income,” said Rodriguez. “Your chances of being able to keep your home are very limited.”

A report from the Indiana Business Research Center shows the share of Indiana residents who were behind on their mortgages by at least three months increased sharply through the darkest days of the pandemic. This rate improved in 2021, with the state’s foreclosure rate declining even after the federal foreclosure moratorium ended.

Rodriguez was able to take advantage of the IndyAMP program herself. She says this let her create a cushion in case of an emergency.

“Maybe I have that money saved so that way for a rainy day fund or as a homeowner, things in the house break down or need repairs,” said Rodriguez. “It is important to just have that extra money knowing that just in case of any emergency you have that little back up there saved.”

Meyer says through the program, they have been able to allow people to have housing stability through this period. It has also been able to help them lower their overall debt.

“As folks were experiencing financial trouble during the pandemic, they were putting more of their expenses on their credit cards, which caused them to not qualify for a mortgage,” said Meyer. “So in some cases, we were able to refinance their credit card debt into their mortgage to help lower their overall debt payment for the month, not just their mortgage, but to get rid of some of their credit card debt as well.”

As the pandemic wanes, Meyer says they are making adjustments to the program, focusing on areas where homeowners are subject to predatory lending. He says in these areas, a more competitive mortgage product can lower housing costs, making residents more financially stable.

So far, IndyAMP has been able to help out 19 homeowners. They are reaching out to the city for additional funding for enhanced outreach and program navigation support.