A fund to ease home foreclosures

Unemployed homeowners facing foreclosure because they cannot meet mortgage payments will be able to turn to a unique new program that will include a ''last resort'' loan fund, sponsors say.

Lenders, politicians, and local groups representing the jobless, which has been hard hit by the recession and deep steel slump, announced the six-point plan Wednesday. Parts of it could become nationwide models.

Sponsors called the emergency mortgage loan fund the country's first. Initially totaling $200,000 donated by local governments and banks, it will get under way in three weeks after an intensive publicity campaign.

Some 37,000 mortgages are in default or close to it in the four-county Pittsburgh area, said Jonathan Zimmer, executive director of Action-Housing Inc. , the nonprofit agency overseeing the aid program. The problem was considered so severe that earlier this month an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge ordered a temporary halt on sheriffs' sales of foreclosed owner-occupied homes.

The move came two days after a sympathetic Sheriff Eugene Coon took 42 homes of jobless workers off the auction block.

''We don't claim to have developed an all-encompassing solution,'' Mr. Zimmer said. ''It's an initial community response . . . state and federal aid will be needed.''

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