Lawmakers approve $200 million bank settlement

6:55 PM, Apr 30, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - More than a year after reaching a major settlement with some of the nation's leading lenders, Florida is finally spelling out how $200 million of that money will be spent.

The Florida Legislature on Tuesday sent to Gov. Rick Scott a measure that spreads money from everything from domestic violence shelters to affordable housing programs and Habitat for Humanity.

The final approval had been held up for months because Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Republican-controlled Legislature quietly feuded over who would have the final say over how the money would be spent.

Bondi agreed to give control of the money to lawmakers in exchange for a promise that it would be used to help people who may have been harmed by the foreclosure crisis in the state.

"I respect the separation of powers," Bondi said after the vote. "But it was very important to me that this money go to help homeowners."

The House Tuesday voted 117-0 for the bill (SB 1852). The Senate had previously approved the measure.

The money comes from a $25 billion settlement involving attorneys general across the nation that was first announced in February 2012. It ended investigations over foreclosure abuses. The settlement was with the country's five largest mortgage servicers: Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

The settlement pledged billions to Florida, but most of that money was supposed to go directly to homeowners for loan modifications and payments to homeowners who lose their homes to foreclosures.

The state received $334 million directly under the settlement. Some of the money went into the state's main budget account. But then lawmakers agreed back in January to spend $60 million on down payment assistance and helping the court system deal with foreclosure cases.

The bill approved on Thursday includes money for several programs run by the Florida Housing Finance Corp. and some of it is targeted for rental payment assistance to the elderly and grants to provide housing for the homeless. The measure also calls for spending money on housing for citizens with developmental disabilities as well as rehabilitating homes in blighted neighborhoods.

Other parts of the bill call for giving $20 million to Habitat for Humanity, as well as providing money to purchase dormitory contracts for low-income students planning on attending college. It would also provide more funding to deal with a backlog in the courts.

Earlier in the session the Florida House had even proposed using some of the money to provide help to teachers, veterans and doctors who practice in rural areas. But Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said that in the end legislators wanted to direct most of the money to affordable housing programs already in place.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, complained on the Senate floor that the money wasn't necessarily going to those hurt by the foreclosure crisis.

Bondi, however, said she was satisfied with the way that lawmakers decided on dispersing the cash.

"I did not micromanage where this money went, that wasn't my job," Bondi said.

The collapse in the real estate market that began in 2008 resulted in millions of foreclosures across the country. Those cases quickly swamped an already overworked court system. Florida still has about a quarter of the nation's foreclosures, according to surveys.

More problems arose when it was learned that paperwork in many foreclosures was the product of "robo-signers," people hired to sign documents in assembly-line fashion, often without knowing what's in them.

Such documents included affidavits that a bank actually owns the mortgage on a property being foreclosed when the original paperwork can't be found. Many cases of mistaken and outright fraudulent filings were found.


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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