St. Paul launched a new homeownership preservation program and partnership with the Minnesota Homeownership Center aimed at helping homeowners avoid foreclosure during hard times.

Struggling homeowners can receive up to $35,000 in financial assistance for housing expenses and past-due bills under specific conditions from the St. Paul Homeownership Preservation Program.

To be eligible, St. Paul homeowners must occupy their homes, be at or below 80 percent area medium income (AMI) and have experienced a COVID pandemic-related financial loss. For a family of four in St. Paul, that is about $79,900 in maximum annual income.

Homeowners can confirm their eligibility online or by contacting the hotline at 651-236-8952. After answering questions, homeowners will be referred to a trained and certified homeownership or foreclosure prevention adviser, said Minnesota Homeownership Center President Julie Gugin.

"Our homeownership advisers also talk with them about what other options they may have in addressing, in particular, any mortgage delinquencies they might have. Once we work through the process and make sure that their expenses qualify, then consumers may be eligible for financial assistance," Gugin said.

That assistance is paid directly to the homeowner's bank, utility company or whoever is owed housing expenses for that person, said Gugin.

The St. Paul City Council authorized $2 million in Federal Housing and Urban Development funds for this program, according to Planning and Economic Development spokeswoman Crystal King.

"Keeping Saint Paul families housed is critical to the health and well-being of our entire city," Mayor Melvin Carter said in a statement. "This program will provide a strong network of support to keep our residents in safe, stable homes."

The program follows a similar partnership between Hennepin County, the city of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Homeownership Center that served about 200 households, according to the organization.

Advisers come from a network of nonprofits that include Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES), LSS Financial Counseling, Neighborhood Development Alliance, NeighborWorks Home Partners and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

The program is being promoted through social media, newsletters and word of mouth, King said in an e-mail. The program is now accepting applications from St. Paul homeowners at