07/12/2011 10:53 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2011

$2 Billion in Foreclosure Help Is Here -- But Does Anyone Know?

For some time, I and other advocates have been calling for more help for struggling homeowners facing foreclosure. The good news is that California now has a program up and running that may actually do some good, called Keep Your Home California. Unfortunately, hardly anyone seems to know it exists.

And as far as anyone can tell, the well-intentioned folks running the program have done far too little to get the word out.

While foreclosures in San Francisco haven't gotten as much attention as some other places, people are suffering here, too. The southeastern part of the city has been particularly hard hit, especially Bayview-Hunter's Point. This is surely contributing to the ongoing decline of the city's African American population, which has been a source of concern for many years, as well as the exodus of families with school-age children, another ongoing worry.

Bolstered by $2 billion in federal money, Keep Your Home California offers a variety of assistance to families trying to keep their homes during hard times. These include mortgage payment subsidies for homeowners who have lost their jobs and fallen behind in their payments. There is also a program to reduce the principal of mortgages when borrowers are squeezed by a combination of economic hardship and a drastic drop in their home's value (although, unfortunately, not all banks are yet participating in principal reduction).

These are all good things, with the potential to help tens of thousands of Californians, maybe more, avoid foreclosure. That would be good not only for these hard-working families, but also for their communities and California's struggling economy.

Recently, Bloomberg reported that just 300 Californians have applied for the program. Diane Richardson, KYHC's program director, expressed surprise, telling Bloomberg, "I thought when we announced the program that everybody who had a mortgage would be calling to see if they qualify. They're not. I'm a little surprised at the work we have to do to get the phone to ring."

Officials must do more to get the word out.

While there has been intermittent news coverage, KYHC has done almost no advertising other than some free public service announcements, which only reach a limited audience. They also now have some ads on Google's search pages -- but the ones I've seen are buried in a mass of ads for commercial (and perhaps questionable) businesses claiming to offer foreclosure assistance. That is simply not enough.

Given the disproportionate impact of the foreclosure crisis on communities of color, an obvious (and comparatively inexpensive) approach would be to advertise in the ethnic media. California has scores of TV and radio stations, newspapers and online news sites aimed at African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans. It simply makes no sense not to reach out to their audiences, including ads in Spanish and widely-spoken Asian languages.

In many cases, people with limited ability to read English aren't Googling. They're looking for information from their neighbors, their church, and the media that speak to them in their own language.

I understand that officials at Keep Your Home California are reluctant to spend money on ads that could be used to help struggling homeowners, but the strategy clearly isn't working. $2 billion in foreclosure relief will accomplish nothing if the folks who need it don't know it's there.

A few bucks spent now to spread the word would get relief to people in desperate need while there's still time to save their homes.