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Foreclosure program changed

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The federal government announced Friday that it is relaxing some rules to make it easier for communities to spend funds on redeveloping abandoned and foreclosed properties.

The changes, effective immediately, will allow cities, counties and states to buy properties in mortgage default and uninhabitable homes with lingering code violations through the $4 billion Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

The program was started in the midst of the nation’s foreclosure crisis, but a year later about a third of more than 300 local governments that got grants have barely made a dent in them, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some city, state and county officials say they have had trouble spending the grant money because federal rules are confusing and cash investors have often outbid them for residential properties.

“It became clear to us that the Neighborhood Stabilization Program as originally designed was too restrictive and limited the ability of our local partners to put this funding to work quickly, Mercedes Marquez, HUD’s assistant secretary for community planning and development, said in a statement. “We need to be more flexible so our local partners can respond to market conditions and reverse the effects of foreclosure in these neighborhoods as quickly as possible.”

James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which got $91 million to distribute to 24 cities and counties, called Friday’s announcement wonderful news.

“It just broadens the pool of available properties that local governments can target,” he said. “This opens up more possibilities for them.”

Buying a foreclosed home can be complicated, and the new rules will make it easier for communities by giving them a broader pool to work from.

Now a community can buy a property that is at least 60 days delinquent on its mortgage if the owner has been notified, or if the property owner is 90 days or more delinquent on tax payments.

HUD also expanded the definition of an abandoned property to include homes where no mortgage or tax payments have been made for at least 90 days or a code enforcement inspection has determined that the property is not habitable and the owner has taken no corrective action.