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This month, after almost a year’s delay, the Florida Housing Finance Commission is finally putting the finishing touches on a state program designed to help those who have been hurt in the economic housing crisis.  There is an official website in place for its new Hardest Hit Fund — the site is ready to take applications — and apparently, there are already evildoers forecasting the success of this new program since they are setting up copycat websites which the Florida Commission is warning us all to avoid:

Please be aware that is the OFFICIAL website for Florida’s Hardest-Hit Fund (HHF) information and to apply for assistance. Florida Housing has detected “copycat” websites posing as HHF application sites. We strongly encourage you to verify that the website you are using is, in fact, the official Florida HHF website BEFORE you provide your personal information. If you are suspicious that the website you are using is not the correct site, contact our toll-free information line at 1-(877)863-5244 to verify the website address. Application for and participation in the Florida’s Hardest-Hit Fund program is FREE-OF-CHARGE and you will not be asked to pay for any services in conjunction with applying for or participating in the Florida HHF. 

What has taken so long for the Hardest Hit Fund to open its doors?

As Paul Over of the Sun Sentinel reports in a March 18th article entitled, “Foreclosure prevention program to accept statewide applications in April,” the Hardest Hit Fund is being revamped and will hit the ground running in April 2011 with a goal to helping twice as many people as originally planned albeit that each individual homeowner may be receiving less financial support than originally projected. 

Cecka Green, Fund spokesperson, explains in the article that the need was initially underestimated by the powers that be.  When the true number of homeowners in need was revealed, the Hardest Hit Fund was revised to try and get help to as many Floridians as possible. 

There are some that believe the changes are politically motivated, pointing to Governor Scott’s conservative economic agenda, and opining that Governor Scott’s office has been the reason for the delay of this program.  These include U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who has accused Governor Scott of “stalling” the Hardest Hit Fund’s going live.  Senator Nelson has written the governor several times, pushing for HHF to get moving, and pointing out that there are many Florida homeowners who need its help in these troubled economic times.   Now, it appears that the HHF will be officially in operation within the next thirty days. 

Where’s the Money Coming From and What Will It Do?

The money comes from the federal government via the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) with around $1 billion being provided by the U.S. Treasury to the Florida Housing Finance Commission to finance the state’s Hardest Hit Fund.  

The Hardest Hit Fund exists to help Florida homeowners who are unemployed to be able to keep paying their mortgages while they are out of a job.  Bottom line, the HHF will help approved homeowners (you have to apply for assistance) to make their mortgage payment while they find other employment — for a certain amount of time, and with a certain amount of cash.  This means that unemployed Floridians may be able to avoid foreclosure until they can get back on their feet, job-wise. 

Last week, the FHFC’s board of directors (see who they are here) considered the final version of the program with proposed changes to include:

  1. The Hardest Hit Fund will help homeowners make their monthly mortgage payments for up to 6 months (originally this was an 18 month period);
  2. The maximum amount that any Florida homeowner can received is $12,000 (before the cap was $35,000); and
  3. HHF will require the homeowner to pay the higher amount of either (1) $70 or (2) 25 percent of their income toward their monthly mortgage payment.

How to Apply for Help From the Florida Hardest Hit Fund

If you are out of work, then you may be able to get some breathing room through the Hardest Hit Fund — once it gets the green light to begin operations.  Already, there is a page dedicated to applications on the HHF website; however, currently we are advised of the following (return to the page in a couple of weeks for details on applying):

Florida Housing expects to move forward with the statewide implementation of the Florida Hardest-Hit Fund Program in mid-April, pending approval from US Treasury. Troubled homeowners in all 67 counties who want to apply for HHF assistance will be able to do so via this website. We will announce the exact date approximately two weeks prior to rollout.

The pilot in Lee County will conclude at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 18; however, Lee County homeowners who have not previously applied for HHF funding may do so when the process opens statewide next month.

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