Life has not been kind to Nicholas and Kathleen Illich of Mayfair.

Nick, 58, had a stroke a few years back and cannot work. Kathleen, 52, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and also is disabled.

When I talked with Nick recently, he had returned from a visit to the grave of his only son, Nicholas, who died Sept. 9, 2004, at age 20, after falling from the back of the truck on which he was working.

The Illiches' daughter, Brooke, has had diabetes since she was a child and was recently hospitalized after what Nick described as a mini-stroke.

The couple get $1,700 a month from Social Security. The $250 extra each received in May from the stimulus for people on SSI "went to pay bills," he said.

All these troubles, plus first and second mortgages they cannot pay on the house they bought a decade ago for $73,000. Unable to meet the 12.5 percent first-lien payment and an 8.6 percent one the Illiches took out to consolidate debt in 2006, they are now three months behind on $128,000 in loans and facing foreclosure.

"The high rates were because they were no-doc [no-documentation] loans because of my income," he said.

It's not that Nick has been sitting idly by, waiting to lose his house. Uncertain of the meaning of the grand words emanating from the government in Washington - especially stimulus and bailout - Nick has been trying to work with his lender, OneWest Bank, the former IndyMac, believing that some of the same stimulus money he used to pay his bills was available to modify his mortgage.

The government has been providing bailout money to lenders overwhelmed by such toxic assets as bad mortgage loans, to get them to loosen credit, but with little success.

You might recall that Pasadena-based IndyMac failed and that its assets were transferred by the FDIC in March to OneWest Bank. Before IndyMac went south, it launched a program to modify mortgages for which, you would think, the Illiches would be more than eligible.

Yes, and no, and no one is sure, because OneWest Bank declined to talk with me about the Illiches.

According to Nick, when he first called OneWest, he was told he would qualify for a first-lien loan modification. Then he was told he made too much money to qualify. Then he was told he didn't earn enough.

This has been going on for three months.

He contacted U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz for help, but the lender wouldn't talk with her staff. So the office set up an appointment for Illich to talk with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, in the hope that he might qualify for assistance through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

In the meantime, it's more than likely the couple do qualify for the city's mandatory mortgage-foreclosure diversion program, which so far has helped 1,400 borrowers keep their houses.

Nick is trying it all to see what works.

"It's been hell," he said. "I'm on 20 different kinds of medications, my daughter's in the hospital, and I lost my only son. I can't lose much more."

Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing). His home-improvement columns appear Fridays in Home & Design.Contact him at 215-854-2472 or