After losing his job and exhausting his unemployment benefits, a single Minnesota dad fell behind on his house payments. Without any income, he found mortgage counselors couldn’t be much help, and the foreclosure process began.

Within a couple of months, he found another job and called the counselor back. Even though the sheriff’s sale on his home was scheduled to take place in a few weeks, the counselor got the lender to modify the loan, stop the sale and keep the family in their home.

That’s one of nearly 5,000 foreclosures prevention success stories that occurred in Minnesota last year, according to a recent report by the Minnesota Home Ownership Center. Helping those home­owners stay put saved property owners, lenders, neighborhoods and local governments an estimated $300 million.

At a cost of roughly $500 per household, the $3.5 million to $4 million spent on mortgage counseling and administration each year is clearly a smart, cost-effective investment in stronger neighborhoods. That’s why the programs deserve continued support from government and nonprofits.

The Minnesota Home Ownership Center supports a network of 25 community-based, government and nonprofit organizations that deal with housing issues. Many have offered mortgage help for more than a decade.

But last year, due to rising unemployment and the poor economy, they were busier than ever.

In 2008 more than 11,000 state home­owners received counseling — a 145 percent increase over 2007. About 60 percent had prime-rate mortgages, and about half faced foreclosure due to unemployment or underemployment. Medical bills accounted for about 10 percent of those who received counseling, and another 12 percent struggled with other debt, according to the report.

More homeowners sought counseling, in part, because of government action last year. In 2008, lawmakers required lenders to inform homeowners that counseling was available. And many cities made greater efforts to get the word out to those who were at risk of losing homes.

In addition, counselors throughout the state helped those who eventually lost homes do so with more dignity. In many cases, they helped arrange the sale of a home instead of foreclosure. And in most cases, they assisted the clients with a transition plan to find a suitable, affordable place to rent.

After foreclosure

To get foreclosed homes back on the tax rolls with responsible owners, St. Paul and Minneapolis recently launched a promising program to attract buyers for newly available homes.

A new website offers information about 80 Twin Cities neighborhoods and referrals to home-buying help, including grants, low interest loans, forgivable loans and tax credits. Combining those options with the federal tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time home buyers makes this an excellent time to find an affordable home.

The new efforts to keep people in their homes and attract new owners are welcome as Minnesota’s two largest cities continue to recover from the mortgage crisis.