News Column

Mortgage Aid Slow to Flow to Hardest Hit Homeowners

Oct. 25, 2012

Kimberly Miller

Mortgage Assistance

Too few homeowners are getting mortgage aid from the $7.6 billion Hardest Hit Fund, according to federal officials who said Florida needs to ramp up approvals to meet its goal of 45,000 helped by 2017.

A quarterly report to Congress set to be released today found that more than two years after the Hardest Hit Fund was announced, about 58,500 unemployed or underemployed Americans were receiving mortgage assistance as of June 30. Of the $7.6 billion, just $506 million, less than 7 percent, had gone to homeowners.

In Florida, which received $1 billion in Hardest Hit money, 5,995 homeowners had been approved through Oct. 1, according to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which oversees the plan. Nearly $51 million, or 5 percent of Florida's award, had gone to homeowners.

The report from the inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program follows an April audit critical of the plan's slow start up nationwide and limited reach.

Christy Romero, special inspector general for TARP, said while improvements were made following the audit, there remains concern about an overall lack of homeowners helped.

"One thing we were trying to say in April is this program is just not getting out to people and the money was just sitting there and the money is still sitting there," Romero said.

Announced in February 2010, the Hardest Hit program gave money to 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Florida retooled its program in April, upping the amount of money people can receive and increasing the eligibility pool.

David Westcott, director of homeownership programs for the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, said money going to homeowners nearly doubled in the three months since they could apply under the revamped plan. Administrative costs have taken up about $16 million of Florida's share of Hardest Hit money, but that was mostly for one-time start-up costs, Westcott said.

"We're happy with where the program is now and confident we're helping more homeowners," he said. "We believe we'll continue to expend our funds at a much better pace."

Those who are eligible can receive up to a year of mortgage assistance with a cap of $24,000, and up to $18,000 to bring a mortgage current on payments. Homeowners seeking only to have their mortgage arrearage paid can get up to $25,000.

About 36,870 Floridians have applied for the program.

Homeowners interviewed by the Palm Beach Post have given the plan mixed reviews. Most cite paperwork and communication problems with the non-profit groups managing the application process.

"It's been a real rollercoaster," said Stephen Pawley, who lives near Sarasota and started receiving Hardest Hit money in April.

The 64-year-old was kicked out of the program last month after he couldn't reach his case manager to check in with required documents. He's since been reapproved for the plan and said he would have lost his home without Hardest Hit.

Hardest Hit applications are available online at flhardesthithelp.org or by calling (877) 863-5244. Some eligibility requirements for Florida's Hardest Hit Fund:

--Must be a Florida resident and a legal U.S. resident.

--Must occupy property as primary residence.

--Must be unemployed or underemployed, with at least a 10 percent reduction in income.

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)


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