Article Courtesy of The Orlando
By Mary Shanklin
February 4, 2018
Florida on Wednesday will close its three largest
Hardest Hit federal housing-aid programs — years early — with $88
million left unspent.
State officials say they are pleased they helped tens of thousands of
struggling Floridians by spending 92 percent of Florida’s $1.1 billion
share of federal funds. Officials are closing three opportunities for
Floridians — mortgage principal reduction, mortgage help for the
unemployed and underemployed, and aid on delinquent home loans.
State officials said the program was a success, despite data showing
that Florida was behind other states in helping financially underwater
homeowners. In shutting down the programs, the state cited Florida’s
drop-off in foreclosures and strong job growth.
“Although the Florida HHF [Hardest Hit Fund] programs were originally
slated to conclude by December 2020, we were able to meet the needs of
struggling homeowners ahead of schedule,” said Trey Price, executive
director for Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the state’s housing
Florida’s Hardest Hit program helped only about half the number of the
approximately 100,000 Floridians who applied since it launched in 2010.
The program has been troubled from the start, rolling out with crashed
computers and an eight-month delay to get approved. Compared with 17
other states that were part of the program, Florida also had the lowest
admission rate — even though Florida had one of the most severe
home-price corrections in the nation, according to a 2015 federal
Orlando resident Candy Angell said she tried to go through the state's
application channels years ago after being laid off from her position as
an administrative assistant at Walt Disney World.
"They put me through the ringer," she said. "They were so rude, so ugly.
I tried so many times. I got turned down so many times. It was just
The slow deployment of money from the program has drawn criticism. U.S.
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said the money approved during the Obama
administration could have been deployed quickly to help speed up
Florida’s recovery from the crash and save families from foreclosure.
“Unfortunately, Governor Scott and Republican legislators dragged their
feet for years in getting the FHFC [Florida Housing Finance Corporation]
to deploy significant funds and various assistance programs, undermining
the effort and stifling its effectiveness,” Soto said. Though the state
has moved toward recovery, it remains one of the few yet to rebound
fully, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.
Zillow recently estimated it would be another seven years for Orlando to
return to home prices of 2007.
The state will keep several Hardest Hit spending programs open —
mortgage help for the elderly and mortgage modifications. A down-payment
assistance program will also remain open, although it is not aimed at
Floridians who have lost their homes. The programs remaining open have
drawn about a tenth of the applications as those closing, according to
data from the most recent quarterly report by the U.S. Treasury
Florida Housing Finance Corporation intends to fully spend the remaining
$88 million on those three programs plus any remaining obligations on
the closing programs, according to a spokeswoman.
For Floridians who have gotten through the application process and
benefited from the state’s share of Hardest Hit Funds, the aid has been
significant. About 15 percent of 42,661 Floridians who applied for
principal-reduction assistance got help from the program, and the
midpoint amount of aid was $45,889 per homeowner, according to a
third-quarter report by the Treasury Department. Homeowners who were
unemployed or underemployed got a median of $10,468 to assist with late
“It’s criminal,” said Maitland resident Ami Colee, who tried
unsuccessfully to apply for the funds. “I had all my ducks in a row but
could not get through on the phone. I ended up standing in their lines,
but there was no follow-up. It was a complete waste of time.”
She was able to save her condo from foreclosure but only by deferring
payments on $30,000 of her Wells Fargo mortgage. The 62-year-old said
she will be “working forever” but at least loves her job with a hospice
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, has consistently called for investigations
into Florida’s oversight of the federal spending program.