‘Predatory practices’: Jacksonville cracks down on loan program city leaders say preys on residents

Jacksonville’s City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to pass legislation against Florida PACE Funding Agency, which city leaders say is responsible for “predatory lending.”

The Council went as far as declaring the program a public health, safety and welfare emergency in the city.

Florida PACE Funding Agency produces long-term loans mainly to homeowners who might not have the immediate resources for home improvements, like roofing, hurricane protection, or window and door replacements.

These loans can end up having high interest rates and are attached to a property’s tax bill.

Council members said that means if the bill goes unpaid, the agency can place a “super lien” on the property, which gives the loan repayment priority over other existing loans, like a mortgage.

City leaders said these kinds of loans can jeopardize someone’s homeownership.

In Duval County, loans from PACE Funding Agency are primarily used by homeowners in the city’s Northside or in Northwest Jacksonville.

“I want to thank Council President Salem and the entire City Council for swiftly and unanimously passing this important legislation that will save citizens from financial ruin,” said Mayor Donna Deegan. “I urge everyone in Jacksonville to tell their neighbors about these predatory loans so that another family isn’t hurt by this damaging practice.”

Salem, who introduced the bill that was co-sponsored by 14 council members said Florida PACE preys on residents.

“Their financing options will end with homeowners paying grossly inflated property tax bills which could end in a tax deed sale should the property owner not be able to pay their property taxes,” Salem said. “We cannot put our constituents in these types of situations and must protect them from these predatory practices.”

Another part of the legislation passed at Tuesday night’s meeting gives the Office of General Counsel the power to file lawsuits to stop the PACE Funding Agency from operating in Jacksonville.

The president and CEO of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid also praised the move.

“JALA has been at the forefront of both litigating predatory PACE loans and educating others on the destructive path left by PACE on a community,” James Kowalski said. “We are thrilled to see the city, under the leadership of Mayor Deegan and City Council President Salem, pave the way in helping protect our friends and neighbors from these loans, which have destabilized so many other cities across the country.”

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