Senator questioning delays in assistance to Floridians facing foreclosure
More than $1 billion may be at stake when a little-known board meets in the state’s capital city this Friday
March 16, 2011
WASHINGTON – A new study this week says Florida continues to have a dismal-performing housing market, but the state’s governor is stalling federal emergency assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure, according to two recent letters by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
“Every day the state waits, people are losing their homes,” Nelson said today. The Florida Democrat previously had lobbied the White House to take specific steps to help states like Florida, where the housing crisis is particularly bad.
The first of the two letters was written last month to Gov. Rick Scott,seeking answers to a delay in rolling out the federally funded mortgage payment assistance program for struggling homeowners, called “Hardest Hit.” An answer hasn’t been received yet.
A second letter sent today went to the chairman of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which administers the “Hardest Hit” program in Florida. The housing corporation’s board could decide the program’s fate when it meets Friday in Tallahassee.
States like Florida and Michigan that have high unemployment and depressed real estate markets were selected by the U.S. Treasury Department among the original “Hardest Hit” program recipients. Florida was awarded roughly $1 billion to help homeowners keep up with their payments and avoid foreclosure. Michigan, which received $499 million, or half of what Florida got, already has its program up and running.
The first step in Florida was to conduct a pilot project in Lee County last fall, Nelson said. The pilot, he said, citing housing finance corporation’s numbers, successfully helped a small number of Lee homeowners. The plan then was to start the program statewide last month. The Treasury Department approved the plan. But the deadline has come and gone, and the program still doesn’t have the new governor’s blessing.
Meantime, a just-released study by a Washington think tank found the Tampa Bay area of Florida continues to have one of the worst housing markets in the country. The region ranked worst in the country for quarterly change in the number of houses taken by banks. Its 3.7 percent drop in housing prices over the recent quarter was second-worst in the country.
Following are Nelson’s two letters:
February 18, 2011
The Honorable Rick Scott, Governor
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
RE: Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund
Dear Governor Scott:
I am writing to inquire about the status of Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund, a program established by the U.S. Treasury Department in February 2010, and scheduled for expansion statewide this month.
The fund was set up to provide assistance to families in states hardest hit by the tough economy and downturn in the housing market. The states selected have unemployment rates at or above the national average or have seen home prices decline greater than 20 percent.
Based on the criteria, Florida was awarded $1.0578 billion dollars last year, specifically for the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to provide qualified unemployed or underemployed homeowners with mortgage payment assistance for up to 18 months. The first step was to conduct a pilot project in Lee County last fall.
That pilot, according to reports published by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, successfully helped a small number of homeowners in Lee County, and my staff informs me the goal now is to implement the program statewide this month.
Please advise me of the status of plans for the rollout of this program. I look forward to your response.
March 16, 2011
Chairman, Florida Housing Finance Corporation
227 North Bronough Street, Suite 5000
Tallahassee, FL 32301-1309
It has come to my attention that the Hardest Hit Funds program in Florida is being delayed to the detriment of homeowners in need.
I was very pleased when Florida was selected as one of the original Hardest Hit states and awarded roughly $1 billion to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Stabilizing our housing market is a real key to rebuilding Florida’s economy.
Last month, I wrote Gov. Rick Scott to inquire about the status of the program. A copy of my letter is enclosed.
My staff had informed me the goal was to roll the program out statewide by the end of February. But that deadline has come and gone. Meantime, my office is hearing from constituents who want to apply to save their homes. And as you know, these funds don’t require money from the state.
It’s my understanding the Florida Housing Finance Corporation board will be meeting this Friday, March 18. I would urge you to raise this issue at that meeting.
If I may be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your public service and for all that you are doing on behalf of the citizens of Florida.
Enclosure: February 18 2011 Letter to Governor Scott
Copies to: Steve Auger, Executive Director Florida Housing Finance Corporation