For more than a year, housing advocates and their allies worried that a review of foreclosed loans managed by banking regulators was vulnerable to mortgage industry interference.
On Monday, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board -- the two regulatory bodies that had taken the lead in making the nation’s largest banks accountable for rampant foreclosure fraud -- announced that homeowners no longer need worry about the independence of the reviews. The regulators, essentially admitting that the reviews were too difficult to conduct, and that assigning appropriate compensation to those most harmed by the banks was no longer a priority, said the mortgage companies themselves will determine how to distribute $3.3 billion to more than 4 million homeowners forced into foreclosure in 2009 or 2010.
Housing advocates, while acknowledging that the foreclosure reviews were flawed, said they don't understand how turning the process over to mortgage companies improves a system already insufficiently independent.
"The regulators have decided to replace the fox in the henhouse with the wolf," said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a Washington-based housing nonprofit. "It is just incomprehensible to me that they could not find a third party that has the wherewithal and independence to fairly determine what the damage is to homeowners."
Regulators said the review process, which sought to determine if specific loans were unfairly foreclosed upon, was too costly and time-consuming. Under the new deal, 10 mortgage companies, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, will pay $8.5 billion. Of that, $3.3 billion is earmarked for direct payments to "eligible borrowers" whose foreclosures were handled improperly. The remaining $5.2 billion will help struggling borrowers with programs such as loan modifications.
This new deal is separate from the $25 billion mortgage settlement involving five large banks and the state attorneys general earlier this year, though many allegations of misconduct are the same. Homeowners have complained for more than five years that mortgage companies made widespread errors in the management of home loans, and that in some cases those errors pushed them into foreclosure.
Scrapping the reviews means dismissing the consultants who had already spent hundreds of thousands of man-hours (and more than $1.5 billion) poring through loan files. Regulators will still oversee the new framework by reviewing a sample of the decisions made by the banks, OCC officials said, but will not actively evaluate every case. Instead, the companies -- known as mortgage servicers -- will make broad determinations about who is compensated for lenders' own malfeasance.
Ernie Dobson is one of the 495,000 homeowners who applied for a review. Dobson lost his San Diego home in 2009 to foreclosure while in the midst of a mortgage modification by JPMorgan Chase. He estimated he spent at least 10 hours applying to the foreclosure review. When reached by phone with the news, he said was afraid to tell his wife what he had learned. "I feel fear," he said. "Fear that the person who committed the injustice is now going to be the judge and jury about that injustice."
Many other homeowners -- an additional 3.9 million, according to regulators -- were eligible to apply for the foreclosure review, but never bothered. Some did not know about it, and others may have trashed the confusing application forms by mistake. Still others simply lacked faith that it would be worth their while to apply.
"Most of my clients did not apply because they thought the process was rigged," said Roy Oppenheim, a housing lawyer in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
On Capitol Hill, congressional leaders who had asked federal regulators for a briefing on the settlement when rumors started swirling last week, reacted negatively to the announcement.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government, said in a statement he was “deeply disappointed” the regulators decided to proceed “before providing Congress answers to serious questions about how this settlement amount was determined, who these funds will go to, and what will happen to other families who were abused by these mortgage servicing companies.”
“I believe that borrowers deserve more answers and transparency than the Federal Reserve and the OCC are currently willing to provide,” Cummings said.
The lack of disclosure -- unusual for such a high-profile agreement shepherded by a bank regulator -- extended to members of the media. OCC officials said they would not provide more than a sketch of the deal Monday, telling reporters the specifics of the settlement may take at least 15 days to be revealed.
Under the new process, OCC officials explained, banks would take the 4.4 million foreclosed mortgages involved in the original review and broadly classify them into 11 “buckets” corresponding to the level of fraud during the foreclosure process. Borrowers with foreclosed loans that fall into the highest-priority bucket, such as foreclosures illegally conducted on U.S. troops while they were fighting overseas, will qualify for a payout of as much as $125,000. Those in the lowest-level group, such as loans with a clerical error, will qualify for at least $250.
Banks will be making all the “slotting” decisions, something OCC officials said was needed to speed the process. Payouts to some borrowers could begin as early as March, OCC officials said. All the aggrieved borrowers will likely get something, if only at the expense of specific determinations of harm being made for those exposed to egregious fraud.
In spite of admitting the new process will not determine “whether or not there was harm” in specific cases, OCC officials contended the latest settlement keeps the Obama administration's promise to discover and correct the wrongs of foreclosure fraud.
“When we began the Independent Foreclosure Review, the OCC pledged to fix what was broken, identify who was harmed, and compensate them for that injury," Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said in a statement. "While today’s announcement represents a significant change in direction, it meets those original objectives by ensuring that consumers are the ones who will benefit.”
The settlement replaces a review criticized as insufficiently independent from the start. ProPublica, an investigative news nonprofit, found that supposedly independent third-party reviewers looking over Bank of America loan files were given the "correct" answers in advance by the bank. These reviewers could override the answers, but they weren't starting from a blank slate.
It was also expensive. Reviews were taking more than 20 hours a loan to file at a cost of up to $250 an hour, according to The New York Times. All told, the banks spent an estimated $1.5 billion on the reviews.
As HuffPost reported last week, the settlement came as the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, was preparing a report critical of the program.
The settlement agreement ncludes Aurora, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, MetLife Bank, PNC, Sovereign, SunTrust, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.
The original deal included four additional mortgage companies: Ally Financial, EverBank, HSBC and OneWest Bank. The reviews on those loans will continue and are not affected by the settlement.
Mom Evicted On Mother's Day
After she and her husband were allegedly duped into a bad loan, California mom Sheri Prizant faced the possibility of being evicted from her home on Mother's Day, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/sheri-prizant-eviction-mothers-day_n_1507681.html?1336741860" target="_hplink">MSNBC</a> reports.
Columbine Shooting Survivor Fighting Foreclosure With Occupy LA's Help
Richard Castaldo survived the shooting at Columbine High School 13 years ago and now he is fighting to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/richard-castaldo-columbine-foreclosure-occupy-la_n_2198146.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_hplink">rescue his home from foreclosure</a>. The people of Occupy Los Angeles are helping Castaldo and others like him to save their homes.
USDA Forecloses On 78-Year-Old Cancer Patient
The USDA foreclosed on 78-year-old Texas resident Alicia Ramirez, reportedly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/alicia-ramirez-cancer-eviction_n_1747933.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_hplink">after she was diagnosed with cancer.</a> While the USDA has thus far allowed Ramirez to remain in her home, a court order evicting the senior citizen could be issued at any time.
Foreclosure Victims Lose Belongings After Free Yard Sale Goes Wrong
The Vercher family of Woodstock, Georgia, offered to give away a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/vercher-family-woodstock-craigslist-foreclosed_n_2017738.html?1351188857" target="_hplink">number of household items in a Craigslist ad</a> after their house was foreclosed on. Instead, they ended up losing nearly all of their belongings when people began taking items from inside the house.
Wells Fargo Offers Cancer Patient 'Assistance' Then Forecloses
Terminal breast cancer patient Cindi Davis could no longer keep up with her mortgage payments due to the cost of her medical bills. Faced with media scrutiny, her lender <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/wells-fargo-forecloses-cancer-patient-cindi-davis_n_1883956.html?1347635836" target="_hplink">Wells Fargo told a local radio station it was seeking "assistance"</a> for Davis just weeks before setting the date to auction her home for December 19th, 2012.
Coca-Cola Heirs Lose $37.5 Million To Foreclosure
Descendants of Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler have been hit hard by the housing bust with their <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/candler-family-foreclosure-losses_n_1890911.html?1347906436" target="_hplink">real estate development company losing $37.5 million to foreclosure since the Great Recession began</a>. (Pictured: the former mansion of Coca-Cola heir Asa Griggs "Buddy" Candler, Jr.)
CT Family Never Missed A Payment
Shock Baitch and his wife Lisa of Connecticut <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/30/bank-of-america-foreclosure_n_802861.html" target="_hplink">were threatened with foreclosure by Bank of America</a> after never missing a payment. BofA mistakenly told credit agencies they were seeking a loan modification. "Now I am literally and financially paying for it," Baitch told <a href="http://ctwatchdog.com/finance/bank-of-americas-christmas-present-foreclose-even-though-not-a-payment-missed" target="_hplink">CTWatchdog.com</a>.
Man Gets Free Home After Lender Shutdown
Facing foreclosure, Perry Laspina of Jacksonville, Florida ended up with a home practically for free after his mortgage lender was shut down by parent company Wells Fargo, <a href="http://realestate.aol.com/blog/2011/04/14/foreclosure-foul-up-wins-man-a-free-home/" target="_hplink">AOL Real Estate reports</a>. Laspina got the home "because of the significant decreased value of the property," a bank spokesman said.
BofA Forecloses On Building With Own Branch Office
In Boynton Beach, Florida, Bank of America filed a foreclosure lawsuit against the owner of a building that houses one of its own branches, <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2011/05/27/foreclosure-roundup.html?page=all" target="_hplink">South Florida Business Journal reports</a>.
Threatened Over $0.00 Unpaid Mortgage Payment
A Massachusetts man was told he'd <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/08/massachusetts-homeowner-receives-foreclosure_n_872518.html" target="_hplink">face foreclosure unless he paid an outstanding mortgage payment worth $0.00</a>. "I'm going to write a check to them for zero dollars and have it clear? I couldn't help but laugh," he joked with local <a href="http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/i_team/I-Team:Man-gets-a-$0-foreclosure-notice" target="_hplink">News 22 WWLP</a>.
Home Allegedly Ransacked By Mortgage Company
Chris Boudreau of Brooksville, Florida <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/florida-home-ransacked_n_890656.html" target="_hplink">told local news that his house was ransacked by his mortgage company</a>, 21st Mortgage Corporation, who he says even shredded his wife's wedding dress. "When she saw what happened...she was crying her eyes out," <a href="http://www.wtsp.com/news/local/article/199268/8/Mans-home-trashed-by-mortgage-company" target="_hplink">he told WTSP 10 News</a>.
Mortgage Payment Made Too Early
A senior couple in Pasco County, Florida faced foreclosure not for missing payments, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/22/senior-florida-couple-faces-foreclosure-mortgage-early_n_933147.html" target="_hplink">but for making one too early</a>. According to a Bank of America representative, they made themselves ineligible for a mortgage modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program when they did not make their payment in the "month in which it [was] due."
Foreclosure In 'World's Richest Apartment Building'
Property developer Kent Swig and his soon-to-be ex-wife Elizabeth faced foreclosure from their apartment at 740 Park Avenue, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/26/foreclosure-hits-property-developer-billionaire-building_n_937676.html" target="_hplink">a New York City address often cited as "the world's richest apartment building."</a>
Untransferred Title Leads To Unfair Foreclosure
Brian and Khanklink Pyron of Houston, Texas were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/10/brian-khanklink-pyron-foreclosure_n_1003339.html" target="_hplink">threatened with foreclosure despite keeping current on their payments due to an untransferred title</a>. "We did everything we were supposed to do," Brian Pyron told <a href="http://www.myfoxhouston.com/dpp/news/local/110926-family-hit-by-surprise-foreclosure?CMP=201110_emailshare" target="_hplink">MyFoxHouston</a>.
Foreclosure On Hurricane-Destroyed Home
Brad Gana, of Seabrook, Texas was threatened with foreclosure by Bank of America even though his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/31/foreclosure-crisis-bank-of-america-hurricane-ike_n_1068080.html" target="_hplink">house had been completely destroyed years earlier in Hurricane Ike</a>. "Bank of America is ruthless in their incompetency," <a href="http://www.click2houston.com/news/Bank-Forecloses-On-Home-Destroyed-By-Ike/-/1735978/4718190/-/vpooliz/-/index.html" target="_hplink">he told Houston 2 News</a>.
$1 Coding Error Leads To Foreclosure
Utah's Shantell Curtis and her family were threatened with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/bofa-foreclosure-missing-1-already-sold-home_n_1074538.html" target="_hplink">foreclosure by Bank of America on a home they had already sold years prior</a>. On top of that, the whole episode concerned the matter of just a $1 coding error.
Investigative Journalist Becomes Foreclosure Victim
George Knapp, chief investigative reporter for Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS, found he was a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/foreclosure-crisis-investigative-reporter-george-knapp-victims_n_1119480.html?ref=business" target="_hplink">victim of the very brand of foreclosure fraud he was investigating</a> for a news report. Him being the reporter, the episode put him in a "very weird spot," <a href="http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/als-morning-meeting/153585/local-tv-station-tackles-mortgage-mess-as-investigative-reporter-discovers-hes-a-victim-too/" target="_hplink">he told the Poynter Insitute</a>.
BofA Falsely Threatens Paralyzed Man With Foreclosure
Robert Galanida, a 41-year-old man paralyzed from the shoulders down, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/12/bank-of-america-sends-false-statements-paralyzed-eviction_n_1202463.html" target="_hplink">battled Bank of America for nearly a decade</a> because it repeatedly sent him false statements threatening foreclosure.
Tracy Morgan Refuses Mother Foreclosure Help
In January 2012, actor Tracy Morgan reportedly refused to give his mother <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/tracy-morgan-foreclosure-mother_n_1244641.html" target="_hplink">$25,000 she needed to avoid foreclosure</a>, instead offering only $2,000.
Bank Of America Plaza Foreclosure
The Bank of America Plaza in Atlanta was sold at a foreclosure auction in February after its landlord, BentleyForbes, could no longer afford mortgage payments, <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-14/american-foreclosure-bottoms-at-atlanta-tower-auction-mortgages.html" target="_hplink">BusinessWeek reports</a>. BofA <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/bank-of-america-plaza-foreclosure_n_1197040.html" target="_hplink">was a tenant in the building at the time</a> but had no other connection besides sharing the tower's ironic name.
JPMorgan Tries To Foreclose On Civil Rights Activist
Even while it promoted a February 2012 campaign to "fulfill" the "vision" of Martin Luther King Jr., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/helen-bailey-foreclosure_n_1260078.html?ref=foreclosure-crisis" target="_hplink">JPMorgan Chase threatened 78-year-old civil rights activist Helen Bailey with foreclosure</a>. The bank ultimately allowed Bailey to stay in her home indefinitely after Occupy Nashville helped bring national attention to the issue, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/02/14/425255/helen-bailey-foreclosure/" target="_hplink">Think Progress</a> reports.
Foreclosure At Luxury Retirement Home
Despite being billed as "cosmopolitan living for ages 60+," the luxury <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/fox-hill-foreclosure_n_1314970.html" target="_hplink">Fox Hill Senior Condominiums was threatened with foreclosure</a> in March after its lenders said they were backing out.
Man Fined For Not Mowing His Old Lawn
David Englett was charged with fines by the city of Arlington, Texas for not mowing the lawn of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/david-englett_n_1317276.html" target="_hplink">a house he had already lost to foreclosure years earlier</a>.
101-Year-Old Woman Evicted From Home
Texana Hollis was evicted from her home due to foreclosure in September 2011, then <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/22/texana-hollis-evicted-detroit-woman_n_1222452.html?ref=foreclosure-crisis" target="_hplink">denied a subsequent promise that she could move back in</a> by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It wasn't until April 2012 that <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57409700/texana-hollis-evicted-at-101-allowed-back-home/" target="_hplink">she was finally granted permission to return to the home</a> she's lived in for 60 years.
BofA Forecloses On Woman After Telling Her To Miss Payments
According to Pamela Flores, an Atlanta homeowner, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/bank-america-foreclosure-miss-mortgage-payment_n_1414988.html" target="_hplink">Bank of America advised her to stop making payments</a> on her loan in order to negotiate a modification. After doing so, the bank foreclosed on her anyway, claiming she'd missed a trial payment
Mother, Disabled Daughter Forced Out Of Home Even After BofA Modification
Dirma Rodriguez and her disabled daughter<a href="https://editorial.huffingtonpost.com/entry/?blog_id=2&entry_id=1423883" target="_hplink"> were forced to flee their home in minutes</a> after Bank of America sold it to a flipper at a foreclosure auction, even though the bank had already modified her loan. But not all hope is lost; Rodriguez may get her home back after the Occupy Fights Foreclosure movement intervened.