Mortgage Servicers should ramp up staff to address problems: Caldwell
Mortgage servicers should rapidly increase staffing levels and improve their customer service, a government housing official told a Senate banking committee Wednesday. In written testimony, Phyllis Caldwell, chief of the Obama administration’s Homeownership Preservation Office, said an interagency coalition is investigating allegations of robo-signing and said, "if servicers have failed to comply with the law, they should be held accountable." Because the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, is a pre-foreclosure program, recent reports of robo-signing of affidavits have not directly affected it, Caldwell said. HAMP is intended to prevent avoidable foreclosures by providing financial incentives to servicers, investors and borrowers to voluntarily undertake mortgage modifications. “As we have learned in implementing HAMP, servicers were historically structured and staffed to perform a limited role — primarily collecting payments. They did not have the systems, staffing, operational capacity or incentives to engage with homeowners on a large scale and offer meaningful relief from unaffordable mortgages," she said. In light of recent foreclosure issues, a compliance division at Freddie Mac is reviewing the 10 largest servicers' internal policies and procedures for completing pre-foreclosure certifications before initiating the foreclosures, and assessing a sample of foreclosure sales. The results of the review are not yet available. If any noncompliance is found, servicers must take appropriate corrective action, she said, which may include suspending foreclosure proceedings and re-evaluating the affected homeowners for HAMP, Caldwell said. Twenty months into the program, close to 1.4 million homeowners have entered into HAMP trials and had their mortgage payments temporarily reduced. Of these, almost 520,000 homeowners converted to permanent modifications, she said. These homeowners are experiencing a 36% median reduction in their mortgage payments — averaging more than $500 per month. "Servicers need to increase efforts in helping borrowers avoid foreclosure through modification, as well as other alternatives to foreclosure, such as short sales,” she said, adding that saving everyone from losing their home isn’t possible. "Not every foreclosure can be prevented," Caldwell said. "Any broad-based solution must aim at achieving both an efficient and equitable allocation of resources. This means a balance must be struck between affording homeowners opportunities to avoid foreclosure while expeditiously easing the transition in those cases where homeownership is not an economically sustainable alternative." Write to Kerry Curry.