Minneapolis and Hennepin County have started a home foreclosure prevention program this week that offers eligible owners up to $35,000 for past mortgage payments, property taxes and utility bills accrued during the pandemic.

The $4.3 million program will be funded by federal financing targeted for COVID-19 related issues. A significant number of applicants are expected to come from families of four who earn less than $52,000 a year.

While tens of millions of dollars have been distributed by Hennepin County in rental assistance since 2020, the number of homeowners seeking help through the program is expected to be much lower because they generally have higher household incomes and property equity, said Julia Welle Ayres, the county's manager of housing development and finance.

"Our homes are our refuge. Whether we rent or own, maintaining housing stability is critical to keeping our residents and their families safe," Hennepin County Board Chairwoman Marion Greene said in a statement Tuesday.

Before homeowners will be considered for financial assistance from the Hennepin Homeownership Preservation Program, they will be referred to a foreclosure prevention adviser. The advisers come from a network of community organizations that partner with the Minnesota Homeownership Center, which has worked for more than 20 years to help households avoid foreclosure.

Payments will be made directly to the entity owed the funds. Some conditions include: applicant must be experiencing a housing emergency and a financial loss due to COVID-19. Applicants must be able to demonstrate the ability to pay housing expenses in the future.

Past bills eligible for financial relief must have due dates between Jan. 21, 2020, and 15 days after initial intake into the program. Besides mortgage and utility bills, assistance may include homeowner association dues, rent for manufactured home lots and contract for deed payments, and late and legal fees required to prevent foreclosure.

"The economic results of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted low-income residents of Minneapolis, and this program is a critical piece of our commitment to an equitable economic recovery plan," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement.

Application to the program can be made at HennepinHPP.com or by calling 651-236-8952.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465