Article Courtesy of The Orlando
By Mary Shanklin
Published May 14, 2014
More than 10,000
Floridians who applied to the state for help with their mortgages seven
months ago are still waiting to hear whether they will get any
assistance, state records show.
So far, the state's housing agency has granted about $90 million in
principal reductions for about 2,100 Florida homeowners — an average of
about $42,000 each. The program is aimed at homeowners who owe more than
their homes are worth but have stayed current on their payments.
More than a third of the 25,000 applicants, however, are still waiting
for a decision after applying for the aid in September. Growing
impatient, applicants have described the process as slow, disorganized
"The time frame of this thing has been ridiculous," said Winter Park
resident Kevin Callanan. "It's been seven months. I was thinking 90 days
would be a sufficient amount of time. … I don't know what they're doing
Florida Housing Finance Corp. spokeswoman Cecka Green said that local
housing agencies contracted by the state have worked diligently to
process applications based on when they were filed. The state didn't
announce any timetable when the program started, and Green could not say
when the agencies will finish.
In September, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. accepted 25,000 online
applications on a first-come, first-served basis for the program, which
could reduce the principal of underwater mortgages by as much as $50,000
for qualified homeowners. It's one of nine programs the state has
introduced to distribute about $1 billion in federal "Hardest Hit"
mortgage aid by the end of 2017.
The state planned to spend $350 million on the principal-reduction
program by cutting an average of $35,000 in principal for 10,000 Florida
homeowners. So far, the average payouts have been higher because people
have qualified for more money than expected. But the approval rate
remains about one out of every 10 applicants.
Fort Myers resident Henry Graefen said Friday that he waited five months
before learning in March that his mortgage principal would be reduced by
$37,374. The wait, he said, was worthwhile because it reduced his
monthly payment by $180. During the application process, he had to
resubmit documents because the first ones he turned had become dated by
"When you're dealing with the government, everything takes a long time,
and every time you think you have things straightened out, there are one
or two things you have to change," he said. "That's life."
Some applicants have complained that the financial information they
submitted was lost or that they wasted time and money on the application
only to be denied for reasons that should have been immediately evident
to counselors at local housing agencies.
Sanford resident Janice Peek said she applied Sept. 25 — the day the
state started taking online applications. The owner of an online retail
business said she included in her application that she had previously
received aid through another Hardest Hit program. Ultimately, that
"They could have told me that from the start," said Peek, adding that
she spent about 20 hours of her time and $200 on accounting services and
postage. "They don't have enough people and they don't have them
trained. I wasted seven months trying to comply with everything asked of
Altamonte Springs resident Stacy Kirk said she mailed a certified
package that detailed her financial information, bank accounts and
Social Security numbers only to have the housing counseling agency lose
"I just didn't feel good about it," she said. "It was handled
unprofessionally. I just thought they were totally unorganized."
She said she lost her trust in the process and never resubmitted the
Green, of the Florida Housing Finance Corp. acknowledged that paperwork
sometimes gets misplaced but said homeowners who are concerned about the
loss of their financial information or about the process in general can