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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Another chance for homeowners to refinance

Published Nov. 20, 2015

Years after the housing crisis helped sink the nation's economy, Florida remains one of the states hardest hit by foreclosures and depreciating home values. But there is help for homeowners who have little or no equity in their houses and a slim chance of qualifying for traditional mortgage refinancing. The federal Home Affordable Refinance Program allows eligible homeowners to lock in historic low interest rates. The program helps homeowners save money on their loans and benefits entire communities by stabilizing a housing market that is still recovering in some areas.

Florida leads the nation in homeowners who qualify for HARP with more than 58,000 eligible, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Nearly 11,000 Tampa Bay homeowners could benefit from the program, including more than 4,000 in Hillsborough County. But they won't get relief if they don't apply.

Created in 2009, HARP allows homeowners with little equity to refinance their mortgages. For some homeowners, this could mean lower monthly payments or a chance to escape adjustable rate mortgages. To qualify, homeowners must have loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac that originated before May 31, 2009. They also must be current on payments and owe more on the house than it is worth.

In May, federal officials announced that they were extending HARP until the end of 2016. They also have made the application process simpler, loosened appraisal and income verification standards, and abolished loan-to-value caps, making it easier for homeowners to get a new loan no matter much they are underwater on their mortgages.

Nationwide, more than 3.3 million homeowners have participated in HARP. But another 429,000 homeowners remain eligible. Homeowners who think they might qualify should apply even if they have been turned down before. The process is simpler, and this time, more lenders seem interested in helping people successfully navigate the process.

HARP and other programs like it are exactly the kind of support the federal government should offer to help stave off another wave of preventable foreclosures and reward responsible homeowners who remained faithful to their mortgage contracts when thousands of others walked away.

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