Florida makes final push to find homeowners

Published On: Jan 16 2013 10:57:53 AM EST   Updated On: Jan 16 2013 03:56:20 PM EST

Time is running out for tens of thousands of Floridians who may be eligible for claim payments as part of a national settlement with five major lenders.

People who lost their homes to foreclosure from 2008 to 2011 have until Friday to file a claim. The settlement applies to loans that were serviced by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citi or GMAC/Ally.

Florida has been one of the states hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis and recession. But so far less than half of the estimated 167,000 people in Florida eligible for claim payments have responded to mail notices.

That has prompted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to hire a company to make phone calls over the next two days to former homeowners. The state plans to spend up to $187,000 on the effort.

"We want every borrower who may be eligible for a cash payment under the national settlement to submit a claim," Bondi said in a statement on Wednesday.

Some critics, however, have wondered how aggressive the state has been in trying to find those who have lost their homes up until this time.

Matthew Weidner, a St. Petersburg attorney who represents homeowners involved in foreclosure cases, said as far as he knows no one reached out to defense attorneys or even judges who handle foreclosure cases.

"Both are a rich source of claims," Weidner said.

The claim payments won't go out until the middle of this year and depending on the number of people who actually apply, the final amount going out won't be that much. A Bondi spokeswoman said the average payment is expected to be $840.

The five major lenders last year reached a $25 billion settlement with attorneys general across the nation to end investigations over foreclosure abuses. Of that total, an estimated $8 billion is available to help homeowners in Florida including $170 million in payments to people who lost their homes to foreclosure.

The state is also directly receiving $334 million under the settlement. A legislative panel is expected on Thursday to approve spending the first $60 million. The money will provide counseling to homeowners dealing with foreclosure and default and help the state's court system deal with foreclosure cases. More than half of the money - $35 million - will go a program run by the Florida Housing Financing Corporation to assist first-time homebuyers, including providing them with down payment assistance.


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