By Jim Wasserman
Published: Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 6B

More than 42,000 laid-off California homeowners are about to get a break.

Starting Nov. 1, the government will help them make mortgage payments while they look for another job.

Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department added $476.2 million to a $64 million state program that will pay jobless homeowners up to $1,500 a month. The funding represents the newest federal effort to steer Troubled Asset Relief Program funds originally designated to prop up lender balance sheets to homeowners instead.

The powerfully upgraded $540 million program will help California’s struggling borrowers make up to six months of payments. Lenders will be asked to match the government contribution.

In a statement Wednesday, Steven Spears, executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency, said the cash will “prevent foreclosures that would otherwise devastate neighborhoods, communities and California’s economy.”

CalHFA will administer the program as the state’s affordable housing bank. In recent weeks the agency has received $1.1 billion in federal funds for states hit hardest by the housing crash. The money will subsidize mortgage payments, partially pay off mortgages and help thousands of borrowers catch up with payments.

In the capital region, unemployment has soared to 12.4 percent – and to nearly 20 percent in Yuba and Sutter counties. There have been 67,000 foreclosures since the start of 2007.

“In this recession people have been out of work longer. So we wanted to do this,” Assistant Treasury Secretary Herb Allison said Wednesday during a media conference call.

The California program aims to help 19,000 unemployed borrowers make a few months of mortgage payments between its November launch and next July. Another 23,000 borrowers will receive help in the next two years, according to CalHFA estimates.

To qualify, homeowners must be out of work, eligible for unemployment benefits, and live in the home tied to the problem mortgage. They must be fewer than 90 days behind on mortgage payments and meet low- and moderate-income guidelines. Generally, that’s less than $70,000 for couples in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties, and less than $54,000 for couples in Yuba and Sutter counties.

But many who refinanced during the housing boom will find themselves ineligible.

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