When foreclosures in South Carolina increased sharply in the first quarter of 2012, demand for a program offering federal money to those at risk of losing their homes was expected to soar.
Instead, the number of applications received by the S.C. Homeownership and Employment Lending Program has remained constant and conspicuously low -- even in a state where the foreclosure rate is considerably worse than the national average.
Only 65 households in Beaufort County and eight in Jasper County have received aid since the program began disbursing money in January 2011, according to Clayton Ingram, director of marketing and communications for SC HELP.
"It's hard to determine exactly why people are not applying," Ingram said. "Some people just don't seek the help, for whatever reason."
He said the program has been endorsed by most of the large lenders in the state, including Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
The program, a nonprofit division of the state Housing Finance and Development Authority, has given about $26 million in aid to South Carolinians since January 2011.
That's not even 10 percent of the $295 million it was given by the U.S. Treasury after South Carolina became one of five states to qualify in 2010 for the Obama administration's "Hardest-Hit Fund," based on high unemployment rates.
Aid per home is capped at $36,000, meaning the program still has the resources to help nearly 7,500 homeowners statewide.
Twenty-six million is "still a large number, and it's no small feat to have assisted that many families," Ingram said. "But of course, with the amount of funds we have, we'd like to help a lot more."
Whatever money SC HELP has left after 2017 must be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
The money might have helped prevent many of the 2,455 foreclosures statewide in the first quarter of 2012, a nearly 40-percent increase over the final quarter of 2011, according to real estate research firm RealtyTrac.
According to its most recent report, one of every 539 homes in South Carolina was under some sort of foreclosure proceeding at the end of May, compared with the national average of one of every 639.
Larry Holman, president of the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce, which provides assistance to homeowners applying to SC HELP, says only about 30 percent of the 20 to 25 people his group helps each month end up qualifying for the program.
Applicants must meet at least one of several criteria, such as being unemployed, underemployed, dealing with the death of a spouse or facing unforeseen health issues.
"Applying for it and being helped are two different things," Holman said.
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