The Department of Veterans Affairs is reversing course and extending a COVID-19 pandemic-related program that will help prevent foreclosures on veterans’ homes.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of Americans were hit by a loss of income, the department set up a program where homeowners with a VA loan could enter forbearance, between six-12 months. Once that period ended, they would have to start making mortgage payments again, but under a structure meant to not be a financial burden.
The idea was that once the forbearance period ended, homeowners would not be on the hook for what they owed all at once. However, the VA ended that program in October 2022, and those homeowners found themselves being asked to pay all the owed money from the forbearance period immediately.
The VA’s move follows an investigation by National Public Radio . Per their investigation, there were approximately 6,000 homeowners with VA loans who were in the process of being foreclosed. And despite what the program was set up to do, those affected homeowners found themselves with little options for repayment as foreclosures rose.
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Following the investigation, the VA said that it is halting foreclosures for six months, through the end of May.
“”Helping Veterans and their families stay in their homes is a top priority at VA. We are calling on mortgage servicers to pause foreclosures of VA-guaranteed loans through May 31, 2024,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement announcing the reversal on Friday.
The move came following a week of calls for such an action in Congress. Following NPR’s initial investigation, four Democratic senators called on McDonough to enact a pause. Senators Tim Kaine, Sherrod Brown, Jon Tester and Jack Reed, members of the Senate’s Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, wrote in a letter that “tens of thousands of veterans and servicemembers are left with no viable options to get back on track with payments and save their homes” and that without a pause those affected could “could needlessly lose their homes through no fault of their own.”
In his statement, Hayes said that foreclosure rate for VA-backed loans are some of the lowest in the United States.
The VA meanwhile is working on a new housing program, the VA Servicing Purchase (or VASP) program. Under that, the VA will purchase defaulted VA loans from other companies, modify them and put them into a VA loan portfolio, the department said.
The end of several pandemic-era protection measures had multiple impacts on veteran housing assistance. The end of the federal Public Health Emergency in May of this year also meant no more funding for programs at the VA that included direct payments to veterans to help keep them housed. Veteran homelessness dropped 11% in the pandemic, according to VA data. It’s unclear how the past several months with the end of these programs and the COVID forbearance has impacted homelessness among veterans.
VA leadership has said that any veteran struggling with their payments should call the department’s housing assistance office at 877-827-3702 or visit va.gov/housing-assistance.
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