Lawmakers approve $200 million bank settlement
TALLAHASSEE The Florida Legislature has approved a $200 million settlement that the state received as part of a national agreement reached between major banks and 49 states. The House today voted 117-0 for the bill (SB 1852). The Senate had previously approved the measure. The deal sets aside money for everything from domestic violence shelters to affordable housing programs and Habitat for Humanity. The money comes from a $25 billion settlement involving attorneys general across the nation. It ends investigations over foreclosure abuses.The settlement was with the country's five largest mortgage servicers: Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Among other programs, Florida has allocated $40 million for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program, $10 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL) and $10 million toward housing for the homeless, according to a staff report. The state had received $334 million directly under the settlement but Attorney General Pam Bondi and legislators had disagreed for months over who would control the money. A legislative panel in January had approved spending some of the money on down payment assistance and helping the court system deal with foreclosure cases. The collapse in the real estate market that began in 2008 resulted in millions of foreclosures across the country. Those cases quickly swamped an already overworked court system. Florida still has about a quarter of the nation's foreclosures, according to surveys. More problems arose when it was learned that paperwork in many foreclosures was the product of robo-signers, people hired to sign documents in assembly-line fashion, often without knowing what's in them. Such documents included affidavits that a bank actually owns the mortgage on a property being foreclosed when the original paperwork can't be found. Many cases of mistaken and outright fraudulent filings were found.