Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Business

Hardest-Hit glitch bounces out homeowners hoping to slash mortgage debt

A Florida Hardest-Hit Fund technical glitch Wednesday morning turned away underwater homeowners hoping for a chance to cut up to $50,000 off their mortgage debt.

A state website said the fund's new $350 million principal-reduction program reached its limit of 25,000 applications only seconds after its 9 a.m. start.

Officials say the glitch began on a server used by a state website contractor. It has since been corrected, and homeowners can still apply.

Jayne Lisbeth, who said she has never missed a payment on her "underwater" home in Tampa's Seminole Heights, prepared all her documentation Tuesday night and was at her computer exactly at 9 a.m. when the website told her it was no longer accepting applications.

"I was almost in tears," she said. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, how is this possible?' "

After half a dozen tries, she was finally able to submit an application. But she worried what would have happened if she wasn't able to get in: "I probably would have just given up."

The program will give an average of $35,000 to about 10,000 Floridians who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. State officials will accept a starting pool of 25,000 applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.

To qualify, residents must be current on a mortgage they signed before 2010 that has less than $350,000 in outstanding debt. They must owe more than 25 percent over the home's market value — say, $250,000 in loan debt for a home now valued at $200,000 — and meet household income requirements.

Officials say they don't know when the fund will meet its application cap, but even with its tight restrictions the program could see stiff competition.

The 10,000 payouts will cover less than 1 percent of Florida's underwater homeowners. Tampa Bay alone has 200,000 underwater homes.

By 2 p.m., state officials said they had received more than 7,000 applications, with nine streaming in every minute.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]

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