Fund to help hardest-hit Floridians

Are you unemployed or underemployed and unable to pay your mortgage on time? The Florida Housing Finance Corporation announced last week that Floridians having difficulties making their mortgage can apply for financial assistance from the Hardest-Hit Fund (HHF) beginning next Monday. On April 18 at 9 a.m., the program will become available to troubled homeowners in all 67 Florida counties.

“We’re now in the position to offer this financial assistance statewide to the people out there who are desperately struggling to stay in their homes,” said Steve Auger, executive director of Florida Housing. “For the homeowners who qualify, this temporary relief from their mortgage payments will provide some ‘breathing room’ so they can focus on becoming re-employed at a level that will allow them to resume making payments on their own.”

Following a pilot project in Lee County, and in consultation with Gov. Rick Scott’s office, some changes were made to the HHF program. For instance:

•The Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program, or UMAP, will provide up to $12,000 to pay monthly mortgage and escrowed mortgage-related expenses for up to six months, or until the homeowner can resume making mortgage payments, whichever comes first. Homeowners in the UMAP will be required to pay 25 percent of their monthly income toward their mortgage payment, with a minimum payment of $70 per month.

•The Mortgage Loan Reinstatement Payment Program, or MLRP, will provide up to $6,000 to bring a homeowner’s past-due first mortgage current if they can demonstrate an ability to resume making payments on their own. For a homeowner who received funding under the UMAP program, any remaining funds can be used in addition to MLRP funds to bring a first mortgage current.

Minimum qualifications a homeowner must meet to be considered under either HHF program are unchanged. UMAP and MLRP program funds will be in the form of a 0 percent, deferred-payment loan; a loan that can be forgiven over a five-year period, at a rate of 20 percent each year.

“There are several reasons for these changes to the program,” said David Westcott, director of Homeownership Programs at Florida Housing. “Most importantly, the need for this program continues to grow and we want to assist as many homeowners as possible. These changes could allow Florida Housing to provide financial assistance to nearly 40,000 homeowners statewide-twice as many as we previously estimated could be helped,” he said.

First announced in February 2010, the “Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest-Hit Housing Markets” provides federal funding to those states hardest hit by the real estate market collapse.

To date, $7.6 billion has been infused into the HFA Hardest-Hit Fund for 18 states and the District of Columbia. Florida’s total allocation currently stands at more than $1 billion.

Homeowners throughout Florida may apply for financial assistance from the fund by using the official HHF website: http://www.FLHardestHitHelp.org. The site contains information on the application process, including a program fact sheet, answers to frequently asked questions and links to resources that may be helpful to those experiencing challenges in tough economic times.

Floridians should be aware that several “imposter” or “copycat” websites posing as Hardest-Hit Fund sites have been identified.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to verify that the website they are using is, in fact, the official Florida HHF website before providing personal information. The Florida HHF application process is free-of-charge and applicants under the program are not asked to pay for an eligibility determination service in conjunction with applying for relief.

If applicants are suspicious about a website, they can submit an anonymous report on the official HHF website by clicking the “Report Fraud” link on the homepage. They can also call the Florida HHF Information Line at 1-877-863-5244 to ensure they are using the correct website address.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Orininal source – The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, as printed in The Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/apr/10/fund-to-help-hardest-hit-floridians/news-newbusiness/