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Supporting Pennsylvania’s Homeowners

Topic Housing
Geography Pennsylvania

by Marci Monaco-Vavrik, Jeremy Nowak Fellow at Reinvestment Fund

View more stories from our 2020 Annual Report

The Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) is about “the American dream; it lets people keep and stay in their home . . . and it truly impacts everybody,” says Lori Toia, director of HEMAP at the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA).

Established in the 1980s, the program was created at a time when workers in the steel and coal industries were particularly hard hit with layoffs. HEMAP was founded to assist Pennsylvania residents, facing economic upheaval, to avoid the loss of their homes.

“The trauma of losing your home is multi-generational, so having a program like HEMAP to be able to avert that kind of trauma and upheaval in a family’s life is really important,” explains Bryce Maretzki, Director of Strategic Planning & Policy at PHFA.

Through HEMAP, people struggling to pay their mortgage due to circumstances out of their control can access emergency loans. Each loan covers the amount homeowners owe to the bank (their delinquent payments) and sometimes includes continuous assistance until they get back on their feet. By filling that gap and making sure the mortgage is back on track, HEMAP prevents foreclosures and keeps people housed.

HEMAP has certainly evolved over the years, but its core purpose remains the same, to support people in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. Since the start of the program, HEMAP has assisted around 50,500 families and disbursed approximately $575 million in loans. The program has also made an impact across the country. When it was established, HEMAP was the first program of its kind in the United States.  Its success has resulted in the model being recognized by Harvard University with an Innovations in American Government Award.

Reinvestment Fund has worked with PHFA to provide research and analysis on HEMAP for almost 20 years. Reinvestment Fund analyzed HEMAP data from 2013-2018 and determined that there was a combined savings of nearly $300 million to the Commonwealth’s homeowners facing foreclosure (and their neighbors), local governments and lenders as a result of the foreclosures that did not happen because of HEMAP.

Most recently, PHFA tapped Reinvestment Fund to help estimate potential demand for the program as PHFA anticipated a significant rise in need with the onset of the pandemic. Reinvestment Fund developed a calculator tool for PHFA to estimate demand for mortgage assistance based on several variables including the unemployment rate, labor-force participation rate, and share of mortgages 60+ days past due.

The pandemic raised the threat of a potential surge of foreclosures without adequate support for homeowners. For PHFA, being able to predict the potential volume of HEMAP applications was crucial to informing the required state appropriations for the program. However, as the pandemic continued PHFA received funds through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support homeowners needing emergency financing.

“HEMAP was designed to help a particular crisis and has proven over its 40 years that it’s still a relevant tool and program to continue to help people to save their homes…HEMAP really has been fundamental and groundbreaking in terms of its legacy in helping homeowners.”


The estimation tool helped PHFA shape its relief programs to make sure they could support the many households expected to need support based on the economic landscape. The tool enabled PHFA to project potential demand and model different scenarios. Overall, the program helped around 2,600 homeowners and disbursed over $10 million over six months in 2020.Pennsylvania is also expected to receive around $350 million in homeowner assistance through the American Rescue Plan Act. This money will fund a new multi-year program with increased resources and more comprehensive homeowner assistance.

Even as PHFA continues to deploy emergency relief, HEMAP’s enduring impact on communities continues to be felt.  Every year, staff at PHFA receive cards and letters from homeowners who have benefited from HEMAP.

“HEMAP was designed to help a particular crisis and has proven over its 40 years that it’s still a relevant tool and program to continue to help people to save their homes,” shared Maretzki.  “HEMAP really has been fundamental and groundbreaking in terms of its legacy in helping homeowners.”

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