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August 31, 2015

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State Government:

Nevada panel OKs hotline, counselors to help struggling homeowners

Distressed homeowners will have access to a new hotline and additional housing counselors as part of a plan approved today by a legislative committee.

Despite sharp question from Republican lawmakers, the $11.7 million proposal presented by Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, passed unanimously.

The program will be funded by a $57 million payment from five of the nation’s largest banks to Nevada, as part of the national foreclosure settlement.

Federal programs exist to help homeowners, and banks have committed to offer $25 billion in principal reduction, relocation expenses and short sales as part of the settlement agreement, Cortez Masto said.

The call center, promoted with a nearly $1 million public relations campaign, will help Nevadans access those programs, she added. That hotline will be established by the end of September.

Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said he wanted to see more money used to directly help homeowners.

“Isn’t the real goal to distribute money to people in need?” he said.

But Cortez Masto said the program will help Nevadans access the programs offered by banks, many of which are on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Short of giving (homeowners) cash payments, I’m not sure what you mean,” Cortez Masto said.

Assemblyman Tom Grady, R-Yerington, complained about a lack of services for people facing foreclosure in his district.

“There are people helping in the south, people in Washoe County,” Grady said. “There’s nothing in the rurals.”

Michele Johnson, president and CEO of the Financial Guidance Center, which will be spearheading the consortium of nonprofits, said there are services available for people in rural Nevada.

One of the groups funded through the attorney general’s program is Nevada Partners, a nonprofit where Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford sits as an unpaid board member. Horsford disclosed his position at the start of the discussion.

Other money will be used for Nevada Legal Services and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.

Republicans worried that it would lead to more litigation and said they would review the program again during the 2013 Legislature.

Cortez Masto said Wednesday that she expected 30,000 homeowners to receive help through the program in the first year.

This story has been updated to correct Horsford’s position on Nevada Partners. He has not run the nonprofit since 2007 and sits on the board in an unpaid capacity.

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