At a conference in late June commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Making Homes Affordable Program (HAMP), Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew commented on the foreclosure crisis and waxed poetic about the alleged success of HAMP. Although 46 billion was allocated for TARP relief for homeowners, only about a quarter of that amount has been paid out in the six years since the programme began. This presented a problem for Lew. The head of the Treasury Department attempted to spin his way out of a sticky situation by saying that “The success of HAMP and our other initiatives must be measured against broader societal goals. The Department of the Treasury’s housing aid programmes are now widely used as an example in the housing industry as a whole.”
It was a “run that by me again” moment, an exercise in clever obfuscation meant to deflect criticism of the government’s indifference to the plight of homeowners facing foreclosure. HAMP was supposed to be a lifeline to those in default, but it has instead turned out to be more like sugary candy: it’s appealing at first, but it doesn’t satisfy for very long.
So-called housing advocates “applauded the extension, mainly because there is nothing yet to replace it,” as reported by the New York Times, which speaks volumes about the sad and short-sighted state of affairs given that there’s lots of meaningful stuff — try mortgage principal reductions and forbearance agreements — on the table.
Naked City, Jules Dassin’s legendary 1948 film noir classic, which chronicled the lives of New York’s underclass, features a cast of mostly faceless victims in this crisis. An unnamed narrator says at the end of the film, “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City, this has been one of them.”
The film sparked a creative thought. Inviting some folks who have lost their homes to foreclosure, I’d like to throw a party at my place. Maybe Secretary Lew will show up. He resides in close proximity to my Westchester home (he calls the Riverdale section of the Bronx home). Tim Geithner is also more than welcome. His hometown of Mamaroneck, Westchester, is relatively close. Meeting real people who have faced down the outrageous attacks of a sector designed to force them out of their homes would be an invaluable learning experience for them.
Some names are as follows:
Bob and Stacy Schmidt, a couple from Tennessee, had their home foreclosed on by Litton Loan Servicing and Deutsche Bank in 2007. Their violent eviction was captured on film by Pacific Street Films in Foreclosure’s Harvest of Shame (still in production). Bob’s health declined and the Schmidts lost their home. He has been hospitalised several times, but that hasn’t stopped him from making it clear that he won’t give up.
Ocwen Financial, a non-bank servicer, has been in the regulatory crosshairs for the past few years, and as a result, Hawaii homeowner Steven Verdekel has been stuck on the HAMP hamster wheel for a long time (I investigated the company in articles for In These Times). Verdekel has submitted reams of paperwork in an attempt to make a temporary modification permanent, but has thus far received no response. Neither his home nor his life have been resolved.
Despite the 2010 hubbub surrounding revelations of “robo-signing,” the doors of law enforcement continue to be slammed in the faces of this next set of invitees who have yelled to the judicial heavens asking that their allegations of servicing fraud be taken seriously.
JoAnne Kennedy, a Pennsylvania resident, claims that, in preparation for a foreclosure in 2011, Wells Fargo played fast and loose with her mortgage notes. Her husband passed away in 1998, but she claims that in 2005, Wells submitted a forgery to Fannie Mae with his signature on it. If you still need convincing that a major bank would act this way, consider the recent disclosure of Wells’s secret foreclosure playbook, which was used to help grease the eviction machinery.
KathyJo Enders Torrenga, a Michigan resident, has also attempted to make sense of the confusing and disjointed links in the chain of title for her mortgage. She is fighting foreclosure in her home and finds it especially galling that the paperwork in support of the foreclosure was prepared by Trott & Trott, a foreclosure law firm whose wealthy CEO, David Trott, is running for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District as the Republican party’s nominee.
Mary McCulley, a resident of Montana, may have trouble making it. She is currently a federal inmate, locked up for “impersonating” a government agent in an attempt to learn why U.S. Bank refinanced her $300,000 30-year loan to a $200,000 loan with a maturity date of 18 months. In February 2014, a Montana jury awarded her $6 million after finding that she was telling the truth about what happened (a verdict reached several months before her incarceration). The case, which was first mentioned in a Salon.com article, is so shocking that one has to wonder why Hollywood hasn’t yet come knocking on her prison cell door.
These folks represent a constituency that’s been victimised by an industry that just keeps steamrolling along looking for new ways to turn misery into money and they’ll be getting together for their own soiree in mid-September in Dallas. Yes, the foreclosure empire will be striking back with some of the biggest names in mortgage banking and servicing in attendance, all trading notes on how best to thwart any strategic offensive by the defaulting homeless rabble. In separate “labs,” we’ll delve into such enticing topics as:
An empty threat of repossession There seems to be a cottage industry thriving off of defending lawsuits. Is there anything that can be done to stop it? I think so! What shall we discuss?
And for those in the industry who are unsure whether the future of foreclosure is still theirs to exploit in light of the increased regulation, I urge you to have faith. A heartwarming Q&A with Dubya and his loved ones, the man who helped cause the crisis, will undoubtedly help to restore faith. In the film industry, Pacific Street Films has hired Joel Sucher to write and direct.