MIAMI - U.S Representative Wasserman Schultz has called on Governor Ron DeSantis to do more with the state's $676 million Housing Assistance Fund, saying only a fraction of the funds has been dispersed to homeowners in need.
The congresswoman said federal funds were allocated to Florida's Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) in March 2021, as part of the American Rescue Plan, to provide financial relief to homeowners affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We did that last year in March, yet Governor DeSantis has only dispersed 16% of available funding to families. Let that sink in for a moment," said Wasserman Schultz.
Apparently, it took a while for the state to submit its plan on how the money would be distributed. Florida opened its portal in February 2022 for people to register for mortgage relief.
Then came another problem.
"Not enough families know that this money is available to them," said Wasserman Schultz.
The Homeowner Assistance Fund program is managed by the Department of Economic Development (DEO) which came under fire after the state's unemployment benefits system failed to keep up with demand during the pandemic, causing some to go without benefits.
She said the DEO was issued millions of dollars from the federal funds to market the program, but not enough was done to inform them about the money that was available.
"It's just unconscionable that the Governor has not fixed the problem with DEO, and even more unconscionable that he's not letting homeowners know that they have this assistance available," said Wasserman Schultz.
DEO responded to the congresswoman's statements after our report aired, saying in part:
"It is unfortunate when an elected official misinforms its constituents - especially when it places unnecessary burden on our state's most vulnerable homeowners and can discourage them from getting the critical assistance they need."
The statement goes on to detail the accomplishments of HAF.
"Florida currently leads the nation in providing assistance through the HAF program. This means Florida - despite the delayed federal approval of Florida's HAF program - is outperforming every state, including California and New York, on an expedited timeline."
According to data provided by DEO, the Florida Housing Assistance Fund has dispersed relief aid to more than 4080 homeowners, providing more than $111 million in assistance.
The department also stated they have partnered with more than 100 local organizations as part of their outreach efforts to inform residents of the available assistance. An area that was a point of contention for Wasserman Schultz, who criticized the Department's efforts in informing homeowners.
"The forbearance period, remind you, ended in January so by the time this program was already implemented you had homeowners who were 60 days past due and their mortgage servicers saying, 'hey, what are you going to do," said Laura Wagner with Floridians for Honest Lending, who also spoke during Monday's press conference.
Schultz and Wagner were joined by three South Florida homeowners who have applied for help through the "Homeowner Assistance Fund." They each shared sentiments of frustration after applying for the program, saying the DEO left them in the dark in regards to the progress of their application.
The HAF program provides up to $50,000 in assistance to homeowners who can prove they're eligible. The funds can be used for expenses such as a mortgage, home insurance, and utilities among others. To qualify, homeowners must own their primary residence, have experienced a financial hardship after Jan. 21, 2020, and make 150% or less of the area median income or 100% or less of the U.S. median income, whichever is greater.
If you are interested in applying, go to Homeowner Assistance Fund.
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