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Happytown: Fast tracking Florida foreclosures

Tallahassee bill could put people at risk of not being able to fend off foreclosure

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If you're going to be the best at something, it should probably be something good, right? Well, residing in the state of Florida has routinely allowed you to be No. 1 in foreclosures nationwide, a fact that doesn't seem to be impacting Gov. Rick Scott's $100 million re-election schemata in the least. Yeah, we know, foreclosure talk can be boring and totally depressing, but the seemingly counterintuitive forces at play in Florida's housing predicament present an odd and cynical wrestling match that threatens the state's citizens far more than it does its elected figureheads. Considering that one in every 32 of the state's houses (3.1 percent) was served with a legal filing in 2012, we might have a problem.

So, what's being done about it? Injustice, literally. On Feb. 7, a House panel played along with the fast-tracking of House Bill 87 (filed by state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples), a rusty sliver of legislation designed to expedite the whole foreclosure process, because, you know, it's getting a little bottleneck-y up in the courthouses. Passidomo's argument is basically that because the state doesn't really regulate the "relationship" between lenders and buyers, it should take a similarly laissez-faire approach to how it's dealing with the foreclosure pile-up. Because, um, free market!

Apparently, nobody's terribly happy with the regurgitated compromise language – a similar bill passed the House last year, but not the Senate – because it requires lenders to have their paperwork in order, but mostly because it's a slippery slope directed toward non-judicial foreclosure.

"Specifically, HB 87 could expedite the foreclosure process and put homeowners at risk of not being able to adequately defend against a foreclosure," Peter Phillips, executive director of PICO United Florida, a nonpartisan religious group, said in a statement. "The bill allows the court to order that homeowners make monthly payments while in foreclosure or risk being immediately evicted. Finally, the bill removes basic property rights protections by preventing a homeowner wrongfully foreclosed from seeking return of their home."

Meanwhile, Gov. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi appear to be holding assistance for homeowners facing foreclosure hostage. According to the Palm Beach Post, Gov. Scott may or may not be playing a behind-the-scenes game with the state's $1 billion Hardest Hit funds. Last week, the Florida Housing Corp., which is masterminding the distribution of the funds, was supposed to discuss two programs designed to offset reverse mortgage problems with seniors and pave the way for principal reductions for those living underwater. The items were removed from Florida Housing's agenda Feb. 1, allegedly by Scott himself, so that Scott could save the world himself later in the month.

That's only one of the 183,928 reasons the folks behind Pink Slip Rick and Florida Watch Action held a "silent flash mob" outside Scott's Feb. 8 Tiger Bay Club appearance at the airport Hyatt.

"It's like Extreme Makeover: The Rick Scott Edition," says Florida Watch Action executive director Amy Ritter. "He's hoping that we're going to forget that he got us into this mess." Never forget.

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