Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay
By The Editorial Board
September 26, 2017
Once upon a time, the federal government created a
program called the Hardest Hit Fund. Its goal was admirable, and its
mission important. The fund was designed to aid Americans in danger of
losing their houses after the Great Recession had wreaked havoc on the
economy. Unfortunately, the folks in Washington erred in one respect.
They trusted Florida to get that money into the hands of people who
needed it most.
It is difficult to
overstate how cynically and incompetently Florida officials
have mishandled money that was meant to be a lifeline for
people in crisis. As pointed out last month by Tampa Bay
Times senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin, a recent
special inspector general report criticized the state's
housing agency for spending more than $100,000 of funds on
employee bonuses and other perks.
From the time more than $1 billion in aid started flowing
into the state in 2010, Florida has delayed, distorted and
otherwise bungled the effort's clear mission. One of the
original five states targeted in a program that eventually
grew to 18, Florida was always woefully behind its neighbors
in disbursing money. It began when state officials
soft-pedaled the news that this help was even available.
Then, as foreclosures were surging and housing values were
dropping dramatically, Florida decided it needed to run a
three-month pilot program in a single county. That three
months turned into six, as more and more people across the
state lost their homes.
Martin's reporting for the Times in March 2013 revealed
Florida was trailing every other state in rescuing
distressed mortgages, and when money was awarded it
occasionally went to felons, tax evaders and people with a
history of running up mountains of debt. By April of that
year, the U.S. Treasury Department had opened an
investigation into Florida's handling of funds.
By the fall of 2013, Florida began to focus on residents who
were upside-down on their mortgages due to falling house
values. A rush of 25,000 residents applied for the program
that would help pay down principal balances. Four months
later, Florida had assisted a total of 750 homeowners, or
The Hardest Hit Fund was designed to aid Americans in
danger of losing their houses after the Great Recession.
Unfortunately, the folks in Washington trusted Florida to get that
money into the hands of people who needed it most.
The coup de grace came when Florida, because it had
distributed a lesser percentage of money than other states, could only
apply for a smaller portion of funds available in 2016. Except the state
didn't bother to apply, meaning Florida lost a potential $250 million.
This for a state that had one of the highest totals of foreclosures in
So, no, the news that Florida's housing agency recklessly spent $100,000
on employee perks last month was not shocking. It is just further
evidence that this state, in the midst of a housing crisis unprecedented
in several generations, mishandled a rescue mission that would have
stabilized the economy sooner and saved the homes of thousands of