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Metro Detroit

October 2, 2013

Grant provides financial relief to veteran, active-duty homeowners

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

Reese Wilcoxson, a Vietnam veteran, fell behind on the property taxes of the Sterling Heights home he lived in for 17 years with his wife and his 30-year-old paraplegic son.

So when his mortgage company at the time approached him about rolling his delinquent taxes into his mortgage, Wilcoxson agreed.

It was a decision he would regret and eventually cost him his home. His monthly payments jumped from $1,300 to $1,700 a month. Simultaneously, his wife was diagnosed with cancer, and the 60-year-old Wilcoxson also was paying medical bills on his fixed income.

He quickly fell behind on payments, and while attempting to work with the original lender, his mortgage was sold to another bank that eventually foreclosed on his property. Wilcoxson and his family were forced to leave their home two months ago.

He turned to the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for help.

“They came and helped us when nobody else would,” Wilcoxson said in a phone interview from his new home in Clinton Township.

He had heard of a grant through the Michigan Veterans Homeownership Assistance Program that was helping people in his very situation.

The program paid for the down payment on a land contract for his new home.

In 2012, Michigan and 47 other states entered into a settlement with the five leading home lenders to address allegations of faulty foreclosures and poor servicing of mortgages. The settlement required the banks to provide up to $25 billion in monetary sanctions and relief nationwide. Michigan received approximately $780 million to help its residents.

A portion of that, $5 million, was appropriated to Michigan veterans and current members of the military who find themselves either potentially being forced from their homes or who already have been foreclosed on and are looking for assistance.

As of August, Michigan DMVA had approved 127 applicants from more than 40 counties in Michigan out of a total of 260 applications — most still pending, said Anne Dutcher, Michigan Veterans Trust Fund administrator. She said only a handful of applications had been turned down so far.

“The criteria is very general, so it is allowing a lot of veterans and service members to take advantage of it,” Dutcher said.

The response has been broad, as far as eras of veterans. In addition to Vietnam veterans like Wilcoxson, they’ve helped Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans stay in their homes or find new ones.

“We’re getting every category,” she said. “We’re finding it very interesting the foreclosure and mortgage crisis has hit every era of veteran.”

And their help has come fast.

She said the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs has been able to save houses up for a sheriff’s sale, and last week, the department was able to pay off the delinquency on a home set to go up for auction later that day.

“We get to move very swiftly and quickly to resolve a very stressful situation,” Dutcher said.

Some of the fast response time, she said, comes from the willingness of lenders and of counties owed back taxes to work with the Michigan DMVA.

Despite the large interest, there is still $4 million in grant money available.

Military service members and veterans interested in applying or checking on their  eligibility for MiVHAP help have several options.

Dutcher said the fastest and most effective way is to call (517) 284-5296 and ask for Erik Napieralski.

Another way to apply is to visit the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs website at www.michigan.gov/dmva.

Requests by mail can be sent to Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, MiVHAP, P.O. Box 30104, Lansing, MI 48909.

Completed applications also can be faxed to (517) 284-5297.