By an 8-0 vote, the panel moved to declare a “public health, safety and welfare emergency” and urge the city’s General Counsel toward litigation stopping FPFA, and its high interest rate and long term loans for home improvement projects targeting people of modest means, in its tracks.
Council President Ron Salem kicked off discussion of this “horrible situation where our neighbors are being taken advantage of” and the need for “legislation to be more firm in this process,” noting 160 local “homeowners have gotten into this.”
“My concern would be that they’ll start getting phone calls from PACE wanting payment for these services, and we don’t want them to get in that position,” Salem said, urging “public service announcements” warning against the program. He said he would take the list of the 160 currently affected and dole it out to their district Council members so the homeowners could be contacted.
In exchange for easy access loans that are “no money down,” already cash-strapped homeowners have at times experienced ballooned tax bills and elongated time frames for delivery on what they are on the hook for, sometimes for decades with liens on their properties.
“These people are being preyed on,” said Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman.
Pittman noted “these folks are going door to door,” targeting people who “can’t afford to pay for roofs and windows,” describing the scheme as “predatory.”
“A lot of people experiencing this really don’t have the mindset to ask the questions, because they don’t know what to add,” Pittman added.
Though Jacksonville has banned these programs for residential customers, FPFA is still moving forward with 30-year terms with up to 10% compound interest, creating a “super lien” that takes precedence even over a mortgage loan. Up to 10 homeowners a week are signing on for these terms.
To put the scheme in perspective, as a presentation ahead of the vote noted, a $34,000 roof on a $168,000 house can add up to a lien approaching $104,000 over 30 years.
While ultimately 3/4 of the City Council will have to vote to that effect at next Tuesday’s meeting, two previous City Council committees of reference unanimously supported the ordinance, which has more than half the Council co-sponsoring it.
Duval County is just one of many in the state expressing opposition to this program, which PACE believes it is within its rights to operate given judicial validations as recent as last year that the program has $5 billion in bonding capacity and that “despite future changes in related law, the assessments that have been placed are secure and valid.”
Clay County has taken issue with the program’s exemption from the Truth in Lending Act, contending the program obscures the real cost of the financed product.
Alachua County’s attorney sent the company a cease-and-desist letter to curtail local operations.
Columbia County’s Commissioners passed a resolution backing the Tax Collector and Property Appraiser in its battle against these assessments.
FPFA also battles back, such as in Hillsborough County, where they are challenging a 2020 ban on operations.