Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wants to know why state officials ended three Hardest Hit Fund programs to help homeowners avoid foreclosure while they continued a program that helps people buy houses.
In a letter to the Florida Housing Finance Corp., Rubio also urged a quick review of the thousands of applications for the three programs that poured in after the agency announced a Jan. 31 deadline for submission.
"It is important that the general public be made aware of how their tax dollars are being used," Rubio wrote this week.
In 2010, Florida was allocated nearly $1.1 billion in federal Hardest Hit funds. Until recently, most of the money was spent in three programs, two of which helped borrowers with their mortgage payments while the third reduced the principal balance on first mortgages by up to $50,000.
On Nov. 30, the housing agency announced it would stop accepting applications for those programs Jan. 31 even though it still had $88 million left in Hardest Hit funds. As evidence that many borrowers were still struggling with their mortgages, more than 3,500 applications were submitted after the announcement with 523 of those coming in during the final three days.
At the same time, the agency said it would continue its ELMORE program for seniors with reverse mortgages and a controversial program that helps first-time homebuyers with downpayment and closing costs. In the past few years, more of the Hardest Hit money has gone to the downpayment program than to the main mortgage assistance programs.
Taylore Maxey, a spokesperson for Florida Housing Finance Corp., said Wednesday that the agency ended the three programs because 94 percent of the Hardest Hit money had been spent. The remainder will be used to "continue funding both current and new eligible applicants," she said.
More than 45,000 Florida homeowners have received Hardest Hit help although the housing agency has been sharply criticized for being slow in getting the money out, especially during the early years. At one point, Florida had the lowest rate of approving homeowners for assistance and among the longest waiting periods of any of the 18 states with Hardest Hit programs.
Florida’s other U.S. senator, Bill Nelson, has long been among the housing agency’s harshest critics. At Nelson’s request following stories in the Tampa Bay Times, a top federal official investigated Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund and issued a scathing report that cited an overall "slowness" in processing applications.
The fund had $70 million left as of Jan. 31, Maxey said.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Following @susanskate