Orlando grandmother faces foreclosure after Homeowners Assistant Fund account vanishes

DEO uncovers missing mortgage assistance application after WKMG gets involved

Paula Bijeau has been patiently waiting since June to get an update on her Homeowner Assistance Fund application.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Paula Bijeau has been patiently waiting since June to get an update on her Homeowner Assistance Fund application.

The East Orlando grandmother has been paying the bills with furniture and jewelry she restores and sells on Facebook Marketplace.

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As of Sept. 1, she owed more than $11,000 in mortgage payments because the forbearance extension provided by her bank expired.

“I’ve been paying on this home for almost three decades and I’m on the verge of losing it,” Bijeau said. “I’ve got family members and a grandchild depending on me to keep a roof over their head.”

Bijeau has endured sleepless nights wondering when the application for mortgage assistance would be reviewed and funds issued.

Much to her dismay, her assigned application number delivered three words on the HAF computer screens: “Error Invalid Page”

She had filed the original application in March and received a payment for a Duke Energy bill but nothing for her home mortgage payments.

By Sept. 3, the HAF program had already issued more than $384 million to 13,200 homeowners.

Despite those impressive numbers, there are hundreds of people across the state who have been waiting for an answer about their applications for financial assistance, but this case is a first.

“They’ve never seen anything like it,” Bijeau said. “They know as little as I do about my situation. When they go ‘Uh oh,’ that’s when I go ‘Uh oh, something’s not right.’”

News 6 and Make Ends Meet sent Bijeau’s case to the Deo-HAF team and within 48 hours a senior supervisor had sorted out the issue.

“My application was floating somewhere but nobody could see it,” she said. “Nobody could do anything about it.”

DEO Press Secretary Leigh McGowan issued a statement to News 6 writing in part:

“Thank you for reaching out to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) regarding Florida’s Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) program and Ms. Bijeau’s request for assistance. While DEO cannot share details specific to HAF applicants, we have reached out directly to assist Ms. Bijeau. "

McGowan went on to say that an invitation to apply is not a guarantee of funds.

“DEO is continuing to prevent active foreclosures, and now we are going even further to stretch every available dollar to reach even more homeowners — we anticipate helping 50% more homeowners than we initially thought possible by modifying forward payments to six months, instead of the previous 18 months.”

Bijeau said she was counting on the 18 months of financial relief but would be grateful for any financial help.

“It’s been a tough journey but I’m pretty sure I’m getting the results I’m looking for,” she said.

For HAF applicants and Florida homeowners who have been awarded funding, assistance is available through the Homeowner Assistance Fund Customer Assistance Center at 833-987-8997 Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For Florida homeowners with unmet needs, other resources are available to assist eligible individuals with utility bills and other homeowner expenses through the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP).

Click here to learn more about these valuable resources and how they can help Floridians catch up on their homeowner expenses.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.