Despite the tricks and tools that Family Services Inc. foreclosure counselors have learned over the years, Executive Director Debbie Kidd admits that it's getting harder to save homes from foreclosure, which is why she's looking to President Barack Obama's $75 billion housing plan for relief.

New lending rules mean that homeowners can't refinance if they're more than one month behind in their payments.

Falling property values in the Charleston area mean that some homeowners aren't able to draw from their home's equity when reorganizing their payments.

And — with the state's rising unemployment rate at 9.5 percent — an even larger portion of Family Services clients these days are without a job.

Without some source of income, lenders are hesitant to work out a new payment plan.

The agency's success rate, correspondingly, has slipped from about 75 percent to the mid-60s.

But the $75 billion loan modification program proposed Wednesday by Obama and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan could help reverse that trend.

The program is designed to encourage the lending industry to lower mortgage rates or forgive a portion of the amount owed for qualified homeowners.

It could help as many as 9 million homeowners restructure or refinance their mortgages.

Homeowners wouldn't need to be behind in their mortgage payments to participate — a key difference from similar government programs already under way.

"Anything has to be better than nothing," Kidd said of the proposal, which she had yet to fully read.

Critics of the proposal say it might not work because many mortgages were packaged into securities, whose investor owners might object to a modification program that hurts their returns. Others say loan modifications set a dangerous precedent.

"The biggest criticism is once you've bailed somebody out, it begins to build expectations that there will always be somebody there to bail you out," Mark Vitner, chief economist for Wachovia Corp., said last week.

Loan modification programs have also come under scrutiny lately after the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency found that more than 50 percent of homeowners who got loan modifications ended up missing another payment sometime during the following six months.

The high default recurrence rate raises the question over whether Obama's plan will work in the long run.

But Kidd of Family Services, who said she's familiar with the study, said that the disappointing rate is because home-owners who failed the second time tried to arrange the first plan without professional help.

"You find that most of those folks went through the modification on their own," she explained.

"The homeowner doesn't know that they can ask for something else. They felt like they had to take it — it was their last resort."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postandcourier.com.

FOR MORTGAGE HELP

Worried about making your mortgage payments? Call 888-320-0350 to speak with a foreclosure counselor who works for an agency that's approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Their services are free.

Family Services Inc. of North Charleston offers free foreclosure counseling sessions every two weeks. The next one starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Trident One Stop building at 1930 Hanahan Road in North Charleston.

Homeowners also can visit charlestonrealtors.com and click on "Foreclosure Services" for tips and local resources.