MuniLand

How counties lost revenue in the bank foreclosure crisis

In a Senate Banking Committee hearing, newly elected Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren asked why bank regulators protected banks, but would not assist wronged homeowners. Regulators did not have an answer to her question, but there is still another question that needs to be asked: What about the economic damages to county governments from banks using a false mortgage registration system – MERS – to avoid paying mortgage registration fees

What is MERS?

”Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems” (MERS) is a privately held company that operates an electronic registry designed to track servicing rights and ownership of mortgage loans in the United States.

MERS serves as the mortgagee of record for lenders, investors and their loan servicers in the county land records. MERS claims its process eliminates the need to file assignments in the county land records which lowers costs for lenders and consumers by reducing county recording revenues from real estate transfers and provides a central source of information and tracking for mortgage loans.

The Washington Post explains how MERS supplanted the centuries-old property registration systems at the county level and allowed banks to use mortgages like securities:

MERS allowed big financial firms to trade mortgages at lightning speed while largely bypassing local property laws throughout the country that required new forms and filing fees each time a loan changed hands, lawyers say.

The mortgage crisis crusader

I dialed into a press conference today held by U.S. Congressman Brad Miller, a Democrat from North Carolina. He wanted to share his views on the suits filed by the Federal Housing Financing Agency (FHFA) against 17 banks over recovery on fraudulently misrepresented subprime mortgages. FHFA is seeking to cover losses on approximately $200 billion of mortgages purchased by Fannie and Freddie prior to their takeover by the government in the summer of 2008. Taxpayers have already covered $140 billion of FHFA losses from these bad mortgages and the amount is expected to go much higher.

The topic is pretty far afield from my regular Muniland content but I had met Congressman Miller several times on Capitol Hill when I lead Riski, the open source financial reform project, and I’d always been very impressed with his forward-looking efforts on the housing crisis. Once you are around Congress for a while it’s easy to see what special interests various members of Congress are promoting. Congressman Miller seemed genuinely independent and interested in America as a well-governed and fair nation. Sad to say these are not common traits on the Hill.

Congressman Miller is not new to the mortgage issue. In March 2007 he penned a letter to Forbes magazine about the scourge of predatory lending and its devasting effect on families:

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