A state plan to help homeowners facing the threat of foreclosure kicked off this week, with the California Housing Finance Agency taking applications on a toll-free phone line.

Designed to help homeowners receiving unemployment benefits keep current on their mortgage payments, the program that kicked off Monday will give as many as 60,000 eligible homeowners a mortgage payment subsidy of up to $3,000 for a maximum of six months.

In February, the agency, which has $2 billion in federal funds, will launch three more programs tailored for low- and moderate income homeowners.

"The phone line's up, it's available, the calls are coming in and people are getting some assistance," said Diane Richardson, president of Keep Your Home California.

The toll-free number is 888-954-KEEP (5337). The agency received more than 1,200 calls in its first two days.

Not everyone will meet the requirements. Tony Salem of San Jose, an unemployed high-tech manager who is at risk of foreclosure, called Tuesday to apply for help and was given the disappointing news that his loan servicer hadn't signed up to participate. ''They said to contact your mortgage company and see if they are going to become involved," Salem said.

Participating lenders, loan servicers and agencies include Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, GMAC, CalHFA, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"More are coming on every day," Richardson said. "We have a lot of them that are just very close to being there."

The other three programs will start Feb. 7, Richardson said. They are:

  • Prevention of foreclosures with up to $15,000 per household to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments.

  • Money to reduce the principal on mortgages that are underwater and at risk of default.

  • Relocation assistance for homeowners who have decided they can no longer keep their home.

    The program's web site is www.keepyourhomecalifornia.com/. Click on the "Eligibility" tab to find out if you meet the eligibility requirements before calling the toll-free number.

    Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419.

    help for homeowners
    Program: Keep Your Home California
    Agency: California Housing Finance Agency
    Toll free number: 1-888-954-KEEP (5337)
    Web site: http://www.keepyourhomecalifornia.com/
    Check website to see if you're eligible before calling toll-free number