Foreclosure Mediation Isn't Working, Says NCLC
Mortgage mediation for distressed borrowers, as a requirement prior to foreclosure, is growing more common at national, state and local levels. However, a group representing the pockets of Americans hardest hit by the housing crisis is doubtful these initiatives will do much good in the long run. Mortgage mediation efforts, that is where lenders reach out to borrowers in trouble in an attempt to bring loan payments current, suffer from the same lack of industry accountability that haunts voluntary federal mortgage modification programs, according to a new study from the nonprofit National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). The NCLC says for all of the good these new regulations intend for borrowers, in the end it equals more bark than bite. “There is as yet no data to confirm that foreclosure mediation programs anywhere have led to a substantial number of affordable and sustainable loan modifications,” according to the report. The NCLC is a consumer advocacy group representing low-income families. For the latest research, the NCLC reviewed 25 foreclosure mediation programs in 14 states and warned that the expectations these programs encourage could be misleading. Researchers also found that the existing programs fail to impose significant obligations on mortgage servicers. “Without the imposition of these obligations, it is unlikely that mediations will lead to fewer foreclosures. The programs we considered often lack mandatory rules and fail to impose sanctions for non compliance with what minimal rules exist,” according to the report. The programs do not require servicers to substantiate a right to foreclose, and they do not mandate an analysis of alternatives to loan modifications. Many of the programs set procedural barriers that keep some homeowners from participating, according to the study. “It is unfortunate that the industry has so far prevailed in blocking Congressional action on court-ordered loan modifications, the one step that would level the playing field for consumers and ensure the necessary accountability from all parties,” said Geoffrey Walsh, the study’s author. But the 57 servicers participating in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) are on track to the meet the Administration’s goal of reaching 3m to 4m homeowners over the next three years, according the US Treasury Department’s latest performance report of the participating servicers. HAMP provides cap incentives to servicers for the modification of loans in danger of foreclosure, and the Treasury adjusts those caps based on performance. The Treasury said in its latest report that 360,000 trial modification are underway, led by Saxon Mortgage Services, which started trials for 39% of its eligible delinquency portfolio. Write to Jon Prior.