The web of assistance for struggling Illinois homeowners got a little stronger after a pair of announcements from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) last week.

The agency announced that it’s supervising a public-private partnership that will buy and then attempt to modify 324 distressed home mortgages. The agency also said that it’s rolling out another $3 million in funding for a statewide network of homeowner counseling agencies.

Mary Kenney, IHDA’s executive director, said that the two programs are part of a multilevel strategy to help homeowners, no matter where they fall along the spectrum between having trouble making mortgage payments and being foreclosed. “The initiative to keep as many Illinois homeowners in their homes as possible is not an air war, it’s a ground war,” she told me Monday. “We really have to meet every family where we find them. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

The agency has been funding counseling for about the past year and a half, and it has proven very effective at helping struggling homeowners find some stability. Kenney notes that defaulting homeowners who get counseling are 50 percent more likely to receive a loan modification and 67 percent less likely to fall into default a second time. That’s significant, because large numbers of defaulters do go back into default within 18 months of a loan modification. (To seek counseling, which is free, go to Governor Quinn’s Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network at or call 855-KEEP-411.)

The agency’s other recent announcement will help homeowners in a more concrete way: with modifications designed to make their mortgages more affordable. Kenney said that the portfolio of loans is being bought from the Federal Housing Administration “for about 40 cents on the dollar, and the idea is to take the 60-cent differential and leverage it for the homeowner in a write-down of the principal balance on the loan.” She described the process as “right-sizing the loan, making it sustainable for the homeowner.” Homeowners who were unemployed for a while may have returned to work at far lower incomes, she said, and can manage a mortgage payment again, though a smaller one than they initially agreed to.

In the event that a homeowner whose mortgage is in the portfolio can’t afford even a modified loan, the program will work to get the house sold and the former owners into housing they can afford or subsidized housing.

The loans in the portfolio are all considered seriously delinquent—the homeowners have missed six months of payments or more—and are in five communities that are part of IHDA’s Illinois Building Blocks Pilot Program: Berwyn, Maywood, Park Forest, Chicago Heights, and South Holland. Each of those towns has been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis and has active local initiatives aimed at restabilizing. “We want to see if we can help these communities get back to being productive housing stock,” Kenney said.

Another IHDA initiative, launched last spring, provides $10,000 in down payment assistance for families who buy vacant homes in those communities; it’s served 80 buyers so far this year. “We’ve really seen significant progress with [these programs],” Kenney said, “and we expect the progress to be cumulative. We expect to see more going into the spring.” A second, more expansive round of purchases of distressed mortgages will be announced in 2013, she said.