A year ago the federal government and 49 states completed a $25 billion agreement with the nation’s largest mortgage servicers to settle claims of “robo-signing” and unlawful foreclosure practices. President Barack Obama announced the creation of the federal-state mortgage securities working group in his 2012 State of the Union address. The nation seemed on the verge of transforming the way banks treat struggling homeowners ‑ particularly those with “underwater” mortgages, in which a homeowner owes more than the house is worth.
These promises, however, have yet to be fulfilled. The latest interim report on the national mortgage settlement is due out this week, and banks will likely again declare that it offers proof that they are fulfilling their obligations. But the communities hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis have yet to see any meaningful relief.
Time is running out to ensure that these communities receive their fair share under the settlement. But it is not too late to provide meaningful assistance. The settlement monitors need to demand greater transparency from banks, and they need to see that banks comply with the fair-lending requirements set out in the agreement. They also need to aggressively police the servicing reforms to ensure that all homeowners get a fair opportunity to save their homes.
This settlement was designed to begin a new chapter in the resolution of the nation’s foreclosure crisis. It provided much-needed funding for legal aid, housing counselors and other foreclosure prevention services. It also committed the banks to billions of dollars in consumer relief to help keep struggling families in their homes. Critics recognized that the settlement size was far too small to solve the entire housing crisis, but they hoped it could change the way banks deal with foreclosures.
Unfortunately, there is little transparency about how the banks are using this money. They have not provided any loan-level data to show which borrowers are receiving assistance.