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Pasco "Hardest Hit" program can help struggling homeowners

Florida has started a program with $1 billion in federal cash to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure, but Pasco's affordable housing chief worries not enough people know about the effort.

Community Development director George Romagnoli said only about a dozen residents have signed up for the Hardest Hit program through his agency. The program, which began Monday, offers no-interest loans with generous terms to help unemployed people stay in their homes. The money is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

"You've got to think there's a lot of people in Pasco that would be eligible for it," Romagnoli said.

A spokesman for the nonprofit Florida Housing Coalition said 9,000 people have begun applications statewide, with roughly half of those completed. He said there are likely more Pasco residents who applied and were routed to other agencies besides Romagnoli's, though county-specific figures were unavailable Friday.

The program is geared toward moderate-income people who have either lost their jobs or are underemployed. The help comes in two ways:

• One option provides up to six months of mortgage assistance, capped at $12,000, to unemployed or underemployed homeowners. Homeowners would be required to pay 25 percent of their monthly income, at least $70, toward the house payment.

• A second option gives up to $6,000 to bring a delinquent mortgage up to date if a homeowner has returned to work or is recovering from underemployment.

To qualify, homeowners cannot be more than six months delinquent on their mortgage payments and must meet several other requirements.

"It's people that are in trouble now but they can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Romagnoli said. It's not for people already in foreclosure — if that process has started, the mortgage is likely more than six months past due and the homeowner wouldn't qualify.

People can expect a thorough application process, including several supporting documents about their income and mortgage. Applications are completed online, and local agency staffers also do followup interviews.

The effort is based on a pilot program in Lee County that ended in March. That program offered up to 18 months of assistance, or $35,000. By tightening those benefits, Gov. Rick Scott's administration said the program could help 40,000 Floridians, doubling earlier projections.

Officials at the Florida Housing Finance Corp. have said requiring homeowners to make a small payment encourages people to share responsibility in keeping their homes.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

>>fast facts

How to apply

Florida homeowners who are struggling with employment and are no more than six months behind on their mortgage could qualify for the Hardest Hit program if, among other things:

• They earn less than 140 percent of the median income for the Tampa Bay area, about $83,000 for a family of four.

• Their monthly housing debt is more than 31 percent of their gross monthly income.

• They don't have a conviction for a mortgage-related felony, or a bankruptcy that hasn't been discharged or dismissed.

• They don't have more than one property other than their primary residence.

• Their mortgage balance is less than $400,000.

For information, call (727) 834-3445 or visit www.flhardesthithelp.org.

Pasco "Hardest Hit" program can help struggling homeowners 04/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2011 8:44pm]
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