On behalf of the Board of Directors and Advisors of the Florida Housing Counselor Network, I want to thank the following HUD Certified Agencies for signing on to the public comments submitted to the Department of Economic Opportunity about the Homeowners Assistance Funds coming to the State of Florida.
The American Rescue Plan is providing significant dollars to the State of Florida ($ 676 million). This will provide much needed assistance to homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.
This crisis is a result of the pandemic and the homeowners need assistance to get back on their feet, keep their homes and be able to move forward on a solid financial footing. To do that, they need more than the money to pay their back mortgage payments. They need professional assistance to review their overall financial situation, develop a budget for how to move forward so they can keep their home and not default on their mortgage in the future.
The Florida Housing Counselor Network represents nonprofit HUD Certified Housing Counseling Agencies in the State of Florida. This group of counseling agencies has experience in supporting homeowners with assistance from the Hardest Hit Fund, the National Foreclosure Mitigation Program and the Foreclosure Counseling Program. Through those programs, the housing counselors across the state supported thousands of Floridians. They stand ready to do that again with the new Homeowner Assistance Fund.
There are several challenges, with a program such as this, that suggest that housing counselors should be providing the assistance to the homeowners who are in danger of losing their home.
We have found with previous programs that a large number of the homeowners need support with submitting an application due to technology challenges, language barriers, complex cases, etc. Housing counselors can provide this support.
Successful programs have the housing counseling services at the front end of the process. As an example, the plan for the State of Maryland is proposing a call center that homeowners will use to access the program. At that initial call they will be referred to a local housing counseling agency to assist them with their application and to support them through the process.
The State of New York is planning to contract with up to sixty-five (65) non-profit housing counseling and legal services entities, who are part of the New York State Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) Network. This Network is similar to the Florida Housing Counselor Network in that they both have counselors that are highly trained and skilled at working with homeowners at risk of foreclosure.
Both Oregon and New Hampshire are using their 211 system to refer people to a nonprofit homeownership advisor who can explain the options and can help clients navigate the systems.
We recognize that the published proposed plan for Florida’s use of the HAF funds does include housing counseling and we appreciate that support. We propose that you include those services in your pilot program so the counseling agencies can provide you with an assessment of the true needs they are seeing with their clients and how the program might be structured to better serve the citizens of Florida.
Housing counselors have experience in dealing with lenders on loan modifications. HUD data suggests homeowners are 283% more likely to get a loan modification when a housing counselor is involved in the negotiations. When you can go to a lender with the money to bring the loan current you have a much stronger case in obtaining a modification. Getting a loan modification that is in keeping with the homeowners’ new budget will better position the homeowners for future financial success.
While the $676 million seems like a large number, it will only help a portion of the homeowners affected by the job loss and the financial and economic ravages brought on by the COVID pandemic. The five percent of the funds set aside for homeowner support should not be limited to those receiving financial support under the program but all Florida homeowners suffering housing insecurity. Those who cannot receive the funds need to be supported by HUD Certified Housing Counselors who can help them understand how to benefit from other home retention options.
Under the provisions of the America Rescue Plan a state can allocate up to five percent (5%) of the total allocation to housing counseling and other support services. We look forward to working with you as you finalize the DEO HAF Plan and ask you to consider allocating the full amount for these much needed services.
As Cora Fulmore and others successfully advocated for 10 million dollars to fund housing counseling from a major mortgage settlement agreement, her idea for an organization that served housing counseling become a reality when Florida Housing chose the FHCN to support the Foreclosure Counseling Program with technical assistance.
Cora Fulmore, Co-Founder of the Florida Housing Counselor Network
Who is the Network?
We are the collective voice and advocate for housing counselors and counseling agencies in Florida. We are a social impact (nonproﬁt) corporation and the ﬁrst organization dedicated to supporting the needs of housing counselors and agencies in the State of Florida.
Why Join the Network?
The Florida Housing Counselor Network is a singular voice for its member agencies in regard to working with policymakers and investors as well as the advocate for additional support at the state and national levels. We convene leaders from across the state to evaluate current needs and develop strategies and solutions. Even more than being the premier organization for housing counseling, WE are a movement.