Article Courtesy of The Tampa
Published September 6, 2016
Instead of doing all it could to help struggling
homeowners, Florida's housing agency spent more than $100,000 in federal
Hardest Hit funds on bonuses and perks for its own employees.
That was among the findings of a report released Friday by the special
inspector general for the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was
started after the Great Recession.
As thousands of people waited for financial aid to save their homes,
Florida Housing Finance Corp. treated employees to $106,775 in bonuses,
Visa gift cards and barbecue from Piggy's BBQ in Tallahassee, the report
said. That sum was part of the $3 million in Hardest Hit funds
improperly used by agencies in several states that administer the
mortgage relief program.
"Congress did not authorize TARP dollars for barbecues, steak and
seafood dinners, gift cards, flowers, gym memberships, employee bonuses,
litigation, celebrations, cars, and other unnecessary expenses of state
housing agencies, but those are some of the charges… forensic analysis
uncovered," said Christy Goldsmith Romero, special inspector general for
Cecka Rose Green, a spokesperson for Florida Housing Finance, said the
bonuses were spread out over five years across 15 employees — "all of
whom met performance standards to be eligible for the bonuses.”
The other expenditure cited in the report "did not violate any state or
federal regulations,'' she said Friday.
According to the report, the Florida Housing Finance expenditures were
authorized by the agency's former director, Stephen Auger. He was forced
to resign in December after a state audit revealed that the agency had
hosted a $52,548 "lender appreciation" dinner of filet mignon and
broiled lobsters tails to honor mortgage companies that worked with
The agency administers Florida's $1.1 billion share of the $7 billion
Hardest Hit Fund, created by the Treasure Department in 2010 help states
slammed by the recession and foreclosure crisis.
In the wake of a 2013 Tampa Bay Times investigation that found some
Hardest Hit aid was going to felons and tax cheats, Romero's office has
been especially critical of Florida Housing Finance. Friday's report
said the agency continues to be among the least efficient nationally in
getting help to needy homeowners.
As of March 31, Florida had a 14-month backlog of applications with
12,738 homeowners waiting to hear if they qualified. More than 43
percent of applicants had withdrawn their applications — a figure that
could "signal inefficiency or mismanagement, lengthy wait times or
program criteria that do not match the reality of the homeowners" in
Florida, the inspector general found.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Florida's Hardest Hit Fund program blistered in
As the Times has reported, Florida is now using a large share of its
remaining Hardest Hit money to provide downpayment assistance for people
buying homes instead of using the money to help people save homes they
are struggling to keep. Last year, only 1,584 Florida unemployed
homeowners received Hardest Hit mortgage relief even though the state
had more than 400,000 unemployed workers.
Green said he inspector general had "misrepresented" the success of
Florida's Hardest Hit program. The housing agency has helped nearly
42,000 families so far and is on track to spend all of its money well
before the 2020 deadline, she said.
In April, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Harold L. "Trey" Price, a former
lobbyist for Florida Realtors, as the agency's executive director.
Auger, who left with more than $180,000 for unused sick and vacation
time, has started his own consulting company, corporate records show.