Nebraska offers homeowners help after Ricketts turns down more aid for renters
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in February of this year, when he first announced an assistance program for homeowners behind on their mortgage payments and property taxes because of COVID-19. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Days after rejecting extended federal help for renters, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a plan Tuesday to help homeowners who have gotten behind on their mortgage and property tax payments during the pandemic.
The new Nebraska Homeowner Assistance Fund will use $50 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to pay past due mortgage and property-tax payments for homeowners who can prove they were harmed financially by COVID-19.
The funds also can be used to help pay late homeowners insurance and flood insurance bills, officials said.
How to apply for Nebraska’s mortgage assistance:
By phone: Call 844-565-7146 weekdays, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Central Time
The need is real, said Shannon Harner, executive director of the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority. More than 18,000 Nebraska homeowners were behind on their mortgage loans as recently as November, the state found.
Ricketts said he knows employers are struggling to find workers. He said one way to keep the workforce Nebraska has is to help people stay in their homes.
“I think it’s great for our communities, great for those people,” the governor said.
Ricketts, asked why he accepted the aid for homeowners but declined a second-round of federal funding for rental assistance, said the situations were different.
The federal rental assistance program was poorly designed, he said. Nebraska received more money than it needed for its state program and not enough for local programs in the state’s largest cities and counties, he explained.
The state negotiated with the U.S. Treasury Department to reallocate some of those federal funds to the Cities of Omaha and Lincoln, along with Douglas and Lancaster counties. Nebraska still has $44 million from the first round of rental assistance funding to hand out by the end of September. That’s a key reason Ricketts said he decided this week not to apply for $120 million in additional rental assistance funds.
“We don’t have the data to show we need the (additional) assistance,” he said. “We’re not trying to create a welfare state.”
Fair housing advocate Erin Feichtinger of Omaha, who testified last week before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee about the need for more rental assistance funds, said both forms of aid are needed — rental and mortgage.
“We don’t make a distinction between those in need, and we don’t place more value on those who own their homes or who rent their homes,” she said. “If you are in danger of losing your home … then you need help.”
Each household is eligible for up to $30,000 in mortgage aid. People applying will need to provide documentation, including a photo ID, property tax statement, verification that the property is their primary residence and proof of income.
To prove COVID-19 affected their ability to pay, they will be asked to provide evidence of reductions in pay, hours or lost employment. They can also point to increased costs from inflation and supply chain issues, as long as they can be specific.
To qualify, Nebraskans can earn no more than their home county’s median income. In Douglas County, that means $87,400 for a family of four, or $82,500 in Lancaster.
The program is available until Sept. 30, 2025, or until it runs out of federal funding. The state’s rental assistance program, if the state doesn’t seek a second round of funding, ends by the end of this September.
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