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MA, NY attorneys general launch foreclosure prevention programs

Two high-profile attorneys general revealed how they will use part of their respective state’s portion of the $25 billion national mortgage servicing settlement.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley launched an initiative intended to prevent unnecessary foreclosures. Titled HomeCorps, the program increases the amount of loan modification specialists available to distressed borrowers and provides grant opportunities to ease the foreclosure crisis in the state.

Coakley is using the $44.5 million paid to Massachusetts as part of the national settlement with the five largest mortgage servicers. As part of the settlement, signed earlier this month by a federal judge, the banks are ordered to provide $14.6 million in cash payments to Bay State borrowers and $257 million worth of mortgage relief across the Commonwealth.

The first part of HomeCorps dedicates about $16 million to providing loan modification, representation and recovery assistance to distressed borrowers in Massachusetts facing foreclosure. Applications for grant programs in connection with the initiative were launched earlier in April. The second part of the program provides up to $10 million for crisis response and housing restoration.

Also on Wednesday, about 200 miles west, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman awarded $3 million in foreclosure prevention services to aid New Yorkers struggling through the foreclosure crisis.

Two million dollars will be funded by a $4 million agreement with Steven J. Baum and Pillar Processing as part of a settlement with New York State related to abuses in their foreclosure-related legal work.

The Baum firm was the largest foreclosure firm in New York state until it ceased most of its operations in late 2011 in the wake of the robo-signing scandal. Between 2007 and 2010, the Baum firm filed more than 100,000 foreclosure proceedings and represented many of the largest servicers of residential mortgage loans, according to the AG’s office.

Another $1 million of the $3 million allocation will be funded by unspent dollars from a settlement between the Attorney General’s Office and Ameriquest Mortgage. That investigation found that Ameriquest engaged in predatory and illegal lending practices to sell and refinance mortgages.

This comes weeks after Schneiderman designated $15 million of the $132 million his state secured from the national mortgage servicing settlement to extend funding for foreclosure prevention. Up to $9 million of that will support the state’s Foreclosure Prevention Services Program, which was set to expire April 1, and $6 million will support housing and community renewal activities statewide through not-for-profit community-based housing organizations.

An average of one in 10 mortgages is at risk of foreclosure in New York, Schneiderman noted. The Empire Justice Center projects that if foreclosures of currently distressed properties continue unabated, they will cost local governments in the state more than $5 billion.

In Massachusetts, more than five million people across the nation lost their homes to foreclosure during this economic crisis, including more than 45,000 people in Massachusetts, and thousands more are on the brink of foreclosure. According to the Warren Group, in February alone there were 1,394 foreclosure starts in Massachusetts, more than double the amount in February 2011.

“Our office worked hard to ensure the best possible outcome for Massachusetts borrowers from this national settlement,” Coakley said. “These new programs will now allow us to further assist distressed borrowers and stabilize communities deeply impacted by the foreclosure crisis.”





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