MANATEE -- The chance to get up to $12,000 to avoid foreclosure hasn’t been much of a draw in Manatee County so far.
Just 50 Manatee homeowners have applied to the state’s $1 billion mortgage-assistance program in its first week, a comparatively low turnout that prompted various theories by experts.
The Florida Hardest-Hit Fund, which offers short-term financial assistance to qualifying Florida homeowners who are behind on their mortgages because of job loss or reduced work hours, has been a hit statewide, though.
The Florida Housing Finance Corp., which is administering the federal program, said it received 9,439 applications in the week following the program’s April 18 launch.
“It’s about where we thought it would be,” agency spokeswoman Cecka Rose Green said Thursday. “The most-populous counties pretty much had the highest numbers of applications that came in.”
Broward had the most applications with 1,638, followed by Miami-Dade (1,027), Orange (957), Palm Beach (939) and Brevard (528). No applications came from Gulf, Lafayette and Taylor counties. Sarasota had 63 applications.
Manatee’s 50 applications ranked 31st, behind several counties with smaller populations. For example, Flagler County -- with 95,696 residents, compared to Manatee’s 322,833 -- had nearly twice as many applications (98).
The program’s strict eligibility criteria might be suppressing Manatee’s numbers, a foreclosure defense attorney in Bradenton said.
“There’s an awful lot of restrictions and a lot of people don’t qualify,” said Dawn Bates-Buchanan, who also is an attorney with Gulfcoast Legal Services.
For example, homeowners can’t be more than 180 days behind on their mortgage to qualify. The home must be a primary residence, not a rental or vacation home. And the home must be worth at least half of what’s owed on it.
But Manatee foreclosures have fallen significantly in recent months, indicating fewer people now are behind on their mortgages. A large percentage -- estimates range from 25 to 50 percent -- of Manatee homes are not primary residences and so do not qualify for the program. And local property values have fallen to 2002 levels, cutting the value of homes bought during the building boom by more than half.
About $2.4 million has been allocated to Manatee under the program, Green said.
She wouldn’t speculate on the county’s low application rate but said her agency has actively marketed the program, resulting in coverage by numerous media outlets.
“Right now I think we’ve got good marketing pieces in place here,” she said.
The top local executive for CredAbility, a nonprofit consumer counseling agency that is among several that are reviewing applications to determine eligibility, said homeowners who don’t qualify for Hardest-Hit money shouldn’t give up hope.
“While some folks may not be eligible for this program, they may be eligible for other programs,” said Richard Schram, president of the agency’s Central Florida and Gulf Coast region.
Homeowners must go to www.FlHardestHitHelp.org to apply for the Hardest-Hit program. Officials expect it will benefit as many as 40,000, but the first checks likely won’t reach homeowners until early June because of processing, Green said.
Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.