MYRTLE BEACH — When Denise and Ted Bowen moved to Myrtle Beach in 2007, they saw it as an adventure.
They had lived in California, Oregon and Washington all their lives and got the chance for a change of scenery when Denise was hired as a contract flight attendant for Myrtle Beach-based Direct Air.
They bought an 1,800-square-foot home in Tern Hall Plantation for $240,000 and settled in to enjoy the Lowcountry life.
But Ted, a teacher who worked in electronics in Washington state, couldnt find a full-time job in Horry County and within three years, Denise was hit with another bout of cancer. She got through that, but it returned within two years.
Ted got a half-time teaching job with Horry County Schools and a second, full-time job with an automobile glass company.
We didnt realize coming out here that things would be so different, Denise said.
One problem fell on another and the Bowens found themselves looking at the specter of foreclosure and wondering how they, who had played by the smart financial rules all their lives, could be in this situation.
They did the things other middle class people do when they find themselves faced with more bills and less income. They cut back here, they quit spending there and they sought advice from those who they believed to knew better than they the potential solutions to their situation.
This whole thing was so new to us, Ted said.
They said that a real estate lawyer advised them to quit paying their mortgage and let the foreclosure process close in on them. They tried to refinance their home through a major bank but found the process more frustrating than helpful.
Finally, Quicken Loans refinanced the house.
But there was still more need than money. Among other things, Denise needed to be on a special diet to help her fight the cancer.
Youre just taking money out of savings until theres no more savings, Denise said.
Then she saw a story in the newspaper about a Charleston-based nonprofit that looked like it was tailor made for them.
She called, the first step on a realignment of their lives that at last gives them the chance to relax a bit and reflect on the not-too-distant past.
The couple had hooked up with SCHelp, a Charleston-based nonprofit that has gotten $295 million in federal funds specifically to help homeowners such as the Bowens.
The agency disburses its funds to homeowners throughout the state for monthly mortgage assistance, direct loan catch-up assistance and transition assistance.
Clayton Ingram, SCHelps director of marketing and communications, said the help must come within two years of homeowners requesting assistance and can amount to no more than $36,000.
Overall this is a lifeline program, Ingram said. The people we are assisting have been responsible homeowners and will be in the future.
Ingram said the federal money comes through the U.S. Treasury Department in a program called the Hardest Hit Fund. He said the Treasury Department uses TARP funds loaned to help businesses survive the 2008 stock market crash.
The money is not used for refinancing or mortgage modification and will not go to those who have taken on more debt than they can afford. Those who get it went through hardships beyond their control such as unemployment, underemployment, catastrophic illness, death of a spouse or divorce.
There is no household income limit that would disqualify some people, the property must be an owner-occupied primary residence and the applicants must have at least 24 months as homeowners.
Applicants do not have to be delinquent on their mortgages.
Denise Bowen said she was impressed with how helpful her counselor was.
What I appreciated was that I was treated so professionally, she said. They didnt treat me like I was a scumbag.
Even with that, they said that they were on edge until the first help came in.
Youre basically waiting for the shoe to drop, Ted said.
But about two months after the first call, SCHelp sent a check to Quicken Loans to make their mortgage current. The Bowens then got the banks permission to go through a short sale, and after that, got money from SCHelp to help them relocate to the rented townhouse where they live now.
The physical environment of this new place has done much to relieve stress, Ted said.
Doctors had told Denise that she needed to avoid stress to battle her cancer.
As of May 31, according to figures from SCHelp, the agency had distributed more than $66 million to 5,530 Palmetto State homeowners. Of that number, 289 were in Horry County, the seventh highest number in the state. Richland County leads the list with 823 homeowners helped so far. Fifty-eight Georgetown County homeowners have been helped.
The Bowens spoke publicly about their dilemma only because they wanted to publicly express their thanks and admiration for SCHelp.
Along with their financial shellacking came shame and guilt.
Its hard to feel youve gone backwards, Denise said.
Sometimes you feel like a failure, Ted added.
But when life hits you up side of your head, your decisions become much more basic.
Do I want to have a house or do I want my wife to survive? Ted framed the question that was at the base of their decisions.
Ingram said SCHelp has seen people from the full spectrum of society seek their assistance, but among them are a noticeable number of middle class families such as the Bowens and women who are the heads of their households.
The agency has a lot of money still available, and theres still a lot of need in South Carolina, according to numbers released this week by RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosure numbers nationwide.
The states overall foreclosure rate dropped 2.2 percent from April to May and 11 percent from May 2012, but with one in every 600 homes in foreclosure, it had the fifth highest rate in the nation. RealtyTrac reported.
Horry County ranked eighth highest in South Carolina with one in every 499 homes in foreclosure.
The downturn hit everyone hard, Ingram said.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.