Friday, June 22, 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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Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

It’s hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bay’s two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Family separation crisis is not over

The family-separation crisis that President Donald Trump created is not over. The executive order Trump signed Wednesday purporting to end the routine tearing of children from their undocumented parents stands on uncertain legal ground. U.S. border a...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. That’s the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney general’s misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect — prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18