Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Rebooting Florida's mortgage aid program

After four years of dismal results, the Florida Housing Finance Corp. appears to finally be serious about helping struggling but conscientious homeowners stay in their homes under the federal Hardest Hit Fund. The application period for a principal reduction program reopened last week for low- and moderate-income homeowners who have stayed current on their mortgage but owe at least 125 percent more than their home is worth. But now the state agency should justify why it is continuing to commit $50 million to another, privatized mortgage aid program for delinquent borrowers that has helped just nine homeowners. That is no way to serve Floridians or help the state's real estate market.

The Florida housing agency announced last week it would resume accepting applications for its $350 million Hardest Hit Fund Principal Reduction Program after last fall's botched application process cut off applications at 25,000. Exactly what happened to all those applications is unclear. Roughly 2,400 homeowners have received principal loan reductions worth up to $50,000, costing the fund $102 million. Another 6,000 didn't qualify, perhaps because their income exceeded the program's requirements of 140 percent of median income for the area — $80,360 for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. Now the agency said it will accept new applications, hopefully soon releasing another $248 million to pay down principals. Homeowners do not have to pay back the money if they remain in good standing on their mortgage for another five years.

The $350 million is part of the $1 billion Florida collected in 2010 after the Treasury Department set aside $7.6 billion for 18 states hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. But for more than a year, reporting by Tampa Bay Times senior correspondent Susan Martin has suggested an agency out of its depth and incompetent in actually getting money to Floridians.

A pilot project aimed at helping delinquent borrowers become current on their loans took too long; Gov. Rick Scott initially restricted efforts to publicize how homeowners could get help; and most condominium owners were initially and arbitrarily blocked from qualifying for aid. Now there are new questions about why the agency continues to commit $50 million to an out-of-state nonprofit investment firm that underperformed on its promises. That firm also has a closed application process and uses a Clearwater agency run by a convicted swindler as an application processor for its Florida deals, in apparent violation of federal policy.

The "Modification Enabling Pilot Project" run by National Community Capital of New Jersey is open just to homeowners so delinquent in their payments that their mortgages had been sold at federal distressed asset auctions in 2012 and 2013. Most Florida homeowners — including those who have been diligently paying their mortgages — were not eligible for this virtually unknown program.

Yet even as the nonprofit found it didn't have enough eligible mortgages to spend the $50 million, the housing agency has granted it even more latitude to subsidize delinquent loans held by for-profit real estate speculators. That is unacceptable. The state should not be choosing to subsidize speculators of delinquent loans rather than helping struggling Floridians who are still making their payments on underwater homes. Scott should direct the housing agency to cancel the private deal and reallocate unused money fairly to give more Florida homeowners a chance to get some help.

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Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

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Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18