January 31st, 2011 10:01 AM by Sherry Lee
Since late October, more than 900 Lee County homeowners in danger of foreclosure have applied for financial assistance from a Florida Housing Finance Corp. pilot program called the Florida Hardest-Hit Fund. The program uses recaptured TARP funds to help unemployed or underemployed homeowners pay mortgages for up to 18 months while the homeowners look for work or a better job. Another component of the program helps homeowners who find work bring delinquent mortgages up to date.
The program has plenty of money — Florida’s share of the federal money totals $1 billion — but it hasn’t been easy to get banks and mortgage holders to take it. Each of the 18 states, including Florida, that has received the federal money has been free to administer the program as it wishes. The lack of uniformity in how the states run the programs initially led the banks and mortgage holders to shy away, but now more are participating, says Cecka Green, Florida Housing Finance Corp.’s communications director. The program got a boost when government-sponsored mortgage holders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac urged mortgage holders to get on board. Green says more than 12 have signed on so far.
The pilot program, meanwhile, will lose its “pilot” status this month and go statewide. To qualify, homeowners must live in the house and total household income must be at or below 140% of the area’s median income. Also, the mortgage can’t be more than 180 days past due and must have an existing principal balance of less than $400,000. The lender will also have to agree to participate. Homeowners can apply online at flhardesthithelp.org.