Action 9 investigates woman's Hardest Hit program mortgage assistance


BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - A Brevard County woman claims Florida's so-called Hardest Hit program should have helped her avoid foreclosure instead of crippling her finances.

She discovered a huge lien against her house after signing up for assistance that was supposed to be free.

Action 9's Todd Ulrich found the program has confused many homeowners and helped her get answers.

A year ago, Lisa Kestal felt she was just a few mortgage payments away from losing her Rockledge home.

Then, she qualified for Florida's Hardest Hit program that was supposed to be federal assistance for jobless homeowners to cover mortgage payments for six months.

"I just did not have all the money to pay my bills, and that helped me. It was assistance," said Kestal.

At the time, Kestal felt rushed to sign the program documents but her payments were made.

Five months after the program began Kestal landed a full time job, so the assistance to help keep her home ended.

But her new job was 150 miles away, so she needed to sell the house.

Kestal said she then discovered something at the courthouse that made selling nearly impossible.

"They see a lien of $18,000 against my home, and I said I didn't do that," said Kestal.

The $18,000 lien was placed by the Hardest Hit program against her property.

Kestal claims she didn't know the assistance was a loan and she received less than $5,000 in loan payments, not $18,000.

"I can't believe they would be able to do that to someone," she said.

WFTV checked and the lien covers the amount of assistance Kestal could have used and it only became a grant, free money, if she stayed in the house five and a half years.

Mortgage experts WFTV talked to said the program had been confusing.

"If they're consistently being told 'This is a grant. This is a grant. This is a grant,' then they have no reason to doubt it," said Karen Wonsetler.

But Kestal could demand her payoff amount, money she actually used, and payback just $5,000 to remove the lien.

Now she's trapped in a home by a program she feels had strings attached.

"It's just wrong. It's just not right," said Kestal.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation said its consultants fully explained the program, and so did the contract.

The program now covers up to 12 months of payments.

Kestal first told us her story by writing us online. If you have a consumer complaint, tell us here.