Negative equity is disproportionately concentrated in the Chicago region’s communities of color, Woodstock Institute report shows
Homeowners with mortgages in African American communities more than twice as likely to be underwater as homeowners in white communities
CHICAGO–Negative equity is disproportionately concentrated in the Chicago region’s African American, Latino, and majority minority neighborhoods, a new report from Woodstock Institute found. The report also found that borrowers in communities of color have much less equity on average than do borrowers in predominantly white communities.
View the full report here: http://bit.ly/strugglingtostayafloat
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The report, “Struggling to Stay Afloat: Negative Equity in Communities of Color in the Chicago Six County Region,” used data from a major provider of mortgage and home value data to examine patterns of underwater homes in communities of various racial and ethnic compositions in the Chicago six county region in 2011. It found that:
- Nearly one in four residential properties in the Chicago six county region is underwater, with just under $25 billion of negative equity. The average underwater property has 31.8 percent more outstanding mortgage debt than the property is worth.
- Borrowers in communities of color are much more likely to be underwater than are borrowers in white communities.
- Borrowers in communities of color are more than twice as likely as are borrowers in white communities to have little to no equity in their homes. In highly African American communities in the Chicago six county region, 40.5 percent of borrowers are underwater, while another 5.4 percent are nearly underwater. Similarly, 40.3 percent of properties are underwater in predominantly Latino communities and 5.3 percent are nearly underwater. In contrast, only 16.7 percent of properties in predominantly white communities are underwater, with another 4.4 percent nearly underwater.
- Almost three times as many properties in communities of color are severely underwater compared to properties in white communities. In predominantly African American communities, 30.1 percent of properties have loan-to-value (LTV) ratios—a comparison of outstanding mortgage debt to home value—exceeding 110 percent, while that figure is 30 percent in predominantly Latino communities. In contrast, just 10.1 percent of the properties in predominantly white communities have LTVs exceeding 110 percent.
- Borrowers in communities of color have much less equity in their homes than do borrowers in white communities, resulting in a significant wealth gap.
- Only about one-third of homeowners in communities of color have significant equity in their homes. In predominantly African American communities, 34.5 percent of borrowers have more than 25 percent equity in their homes, while 33.1 percent of borrowers in Latino communities have more than 25 percent equity in their homes. Fifty-five percent of borrowers in predominantly white communities have more than 25 percent equity.
- Borrowers in communities of color have much higher average loan-to-value ratios than do borrowers in predominantly white communities. The average LTV ratio is 92.1 in predominantly African American communities and 87.4 in Latino communities, compared with an average LTV ratio of 67.7 in predominantly white communities.
Negative equity contributes to community decline by potentially leading to increased foreclosure activity, threatening the success of foreclosure prevention programs, and draining neighborhood wealth. In addition, the destruction of assets caused by negative home equity may disproportionately threaten the economic security of people of color because home equity is a larger proportion of their net worth than it is for white people.
View the full report here: http://bit.ly/strugglingtostayafloat
The report concluded with a number of policy recommendations to reduce the negative impacts of concentrated negative equity, including:
- Servicers should use principal reduction as a foreclosure prevention tool more broadly.
- The Federal Housing Finance Authority should permit loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be eligible for principal reductions.
- Servicers should streamline processes for short sales.
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- A good credit score did not protect Latino and black borrowers (scoppcanton.wordpress.com)
- Negative Equity Increasing Around US; but Not Oro Valley (finehomesdigest.wordpress.com)
- Housing Still Drowning in Underwater Mortgages (blogs.wsj.com)
(For related Special Report, see )
By Scot J. Paltrow
Jan 19 (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, were partners for years at a Washington law firm that represented a Who’s Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud, a Reuters inquiry shows.
The firm, Covington & Burling, is one of Washington’s biggest white shoe law firms. Law professors and other federal ethics experts said that federal conflict of interest rules required Holder and Breuer to recuse themselves from any Justice Department decisions relating to law firm clients they personally had done work for.
Both the Justice Department and Covington declined to say if either official had personally worked on matters for the big mortgage industry clients. Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said Holder and Breuer had complied fully with conflict of interest regulations, but she declined to say if they had recused themselves from any matters related to the former clients.
Reuters reported in December that under Holder and Breuer, the Justice Department hasn’t brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved in mortgage servicing, even though copious evidence has surfaced of apparent criminal violations in foreclosure cases.
The evidence, including records from federal and state courts and local clerks’ offices around the country, shows widespread forgery, perjury, obstruction of justice, and illegal foreclosures on the homes of thousands of active-duty military personnel.
In recent weeks the Justice Department has come under renewed pressure from members of Congress, state and local officials and homeowners’ lawyers to open a wide-ranging criminal investigation of mortgage servicers, the biggest of which have been Covington clients. So far Justice officials haven’t responded publicly to any of the requests.
While Holder and Breuer were partners at Covington, the firm’s clients included the four largest U.S. banks – Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo & Co – as well as at least one other bank that is among the 10 largest mortgage servicers.
DEFENDER OF FREDDIE
Servicers perform routine mortgage maintenance tasks, including filing foreclosures, on behalf of mortgage owners, usually groups of investors who bought mortgage-backed securities.
Covington represented Freddie Mac, one of the nation’s biggest issuers of mortgage backed securities, in enforcement investigations by federal financial regulators.
A particular concern by those pressing for an investigation is Covington’s involvement with Virginia-based MERS Corp, which runs a vast computerized registry of mortgages. Little known before the mortgage crisis hit, MERS, which stands for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, has been at the center of complaints about false or erroneous mortgage documents.
Court records show that Covington, in the late 1990s, provided legal opinion letters needed to create MERS on behalf of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and several other large banks. It was meant to speed up registration and transfers of mortgages. By 2010, MERS claimed to own about half of all mortgages in the U.S. — roughly 60 million loans.
But evidence in numerous state and federal court cases around the country has shown that MERS authorized thousands of bank employees to sign their names as MERS officials. The banks allegedly drew up fake mortgage assignments, making it appear falsely that they had standing to file foreclosures, and then had their own employees sign the documents as MERS “vice presidents” or “assistant secretaries.”
Covington in 2004 also wrote a crucial opinion letter commissioned by MERS, providing legal justification for its electronic registry. MERS spokeswoman Karmela Lejarde declined to comment on Covington legal work done for MERS.
It isn’t known to what extent if any Covington has continued to represent the banks and other mortgage firms since Holder and Breuer left. Covington declined to respond to questions from Reuters. A Covington spokeswoman said the firm had no comment.
Several lawyers for homeowners have said that even if Holder and Breuer haven’t violated any ethics rules, their ties to Covington create an impression of bias toward the firms’ clients, especially in the absence of any prosecutions by the Justice Department.
O. Max Gardner III, a lawyer who trains other attorneys to represent homeowners in bankruptcy court foreclosure actions, said he attributes the Justice Department’s reluctance to prosecute the banks or their executives to the Obama White House‘s view that it might harm the economy.
But he said that the background of Holder and Breuer at Covington — and their failure to act on foreclosure fraud or publicly recuse themselves — “doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Federal ethics regulations generally require new government officials to recuse themselves for one year from involvement in matters involving clients they personally had represented at their former law firms.
President Obama imposed additional restrictions on appointees that essentially extended the ban to two years. For Holder, that ban would have expired in February 2011, and in April for Breuer. Rules also require officials to avoid creating the appearance of a conflict.
Schmaler, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that “The Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General Breuer have conformed with all financial, legal and ethical obligations under law as well as additional ethical standards set by the Obama Administration.”
She said they “routinely consult” the department’s ethics officials for guidance. Without offering specifics, Schmaler said they “have recused themselves from matters as required by the law.”
Senior government officials often move to big Washington law firms, and lawyers from those firms often move into government posts. But records show that in recent years the traffic between the Justice Department and Covington & Burling has been particularly heavy. In 2010, Holder’s deputy chief of staff, John Garland, returned to Covington, as did Steven Fagell, who was Breuer’s deputy chief of staff in the criminal division.
The firm has on its web site a page listing its attorneys who are former federal government officials. Covington lists 22 from the Justice Department, and 12 from U.S. Attorneys offices, the Justice Department’s local federal prosecutors’ offices around the country.
As Reuters reported in 2011, public records show large numbers of mortgage promissory notes with apparently forged endorsements that were submitted as evidence to courts.
There also is evidence of almost routine manufacturing of false mortgage assignments, documents that transfer ownership of mortgages between banks or to groups of investors. In foreclosure actions in courts mortgage assignments are required to show that a bank has the legal right to foreclose.
In an interview in late 2011, Raymond Brescia, a visiting professor at Yale Law School who has written about foreclosure practices said, “I think it’s difficult to find a fraud of this size on the U.S. court system in U.S. history.”
Holder has resisted calls for a criminal investigation since October 2010, when evidence of widespread “robo-signing” first surfaced. That involved mortgage servicer employees falsely signing and swearing to massive numbers of affidavits and other foreclosure documents that they had never read or checked for accuracy.
Recent calls for a wide-ranging criminal investigation of the mortgage servicing industry have come from members of Congress, including Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., state officials, and county clerks. In recent months clerks from around the country have examined mortgage and foreclosure records filed with them and reported finding high percentages of apparently fraudulent documents.
On Wednesday, John O’Brien Jr., register of deeds in Salem, Mass., announced that he had sent 31,897 allegedly fraudulent foreclosure-related documents to Holder. O’Brien said he asked for a criminal investigation of servicers and their law firms that had filed the documents because they “show a pattern of fraud,” forgery and false notarizations.
(Reporting By Scot J. Paltrow, editing by Blake Morrison)
Related on HuffPost:
- MERS Settles, Avoiding Class Action Foreclosure Fee Lawsuit (mainstreetresolutions.com)
The last 18 months have been rough for Dana. Sad to say, in the midst of the continuing Great Recession, she and her husband of three years have parted company. He’s not willing to help her at all, so she now has full responsibility for raising two toddlers and maintaining her job as a restaurant manager, while also paying the mortgage on their modest two-story home each month. There have been months when money has been so tight she’s had to ask her Mom to help out. Still, through all the adversity, Dana has managed to make her monthly mortgage payments on time. She’s never missed a payment, nor even been late.
Unfortunately, the value of her home has plunged from what it was when she purchased it in 2007, so she now finds herself in the same position as many other homeowners do today: upside down with a mortgage rate much higher than today’s going rates. Until now, there has been no way she could refinance or modify her mortgage loan to relieve some of the fiscal pressure she faces every month. However, there are signs that maybe — finally – there could be light at the end of the tunnel for Dana and millions of other Americans in the same boat underwater:
“Theis launching yet another high-profile campaign to shore up the housing market — and with it, the economy — by making it easier for some struggling homeowners to refinance underwater mortgage loans at today’s ultra-low interest rates.
The federal government’s new rules will encourage borrowers to secure new loans no matter how much value their homes have lost during the nation’s housing crisis, with the hitch that they can’t have missed any mortgage payments for the last six months.
The plan could help 1 million to 2 million people get significantly lower monthly payments in hopes of stabilizing the real estate market. On top of that, it would boost the economy by putting about $2,500 more in a typical homeowner’s pocket each year, administration officials said. The plan amounts to a sweeping overhaul of the 2½-year-old Home Affordable Refinance Program, easing rules and reducing fees to allow many more homeowners potentially to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates.
The revisions include lifting a ceiling that barred participation by borrowers who owed more than 125% of the value of their homes, and using a controversial modeling method to replace costly appraisals that are among the fees that have kept some homeowners from refinancing. About 14.6 million mortgages nationwide were underwater at the end of the first quarter, about 29% of the nearly 51 million residential mortgages nationwide, according to Moody’s Analytics and Equifax.” (Source: Los Angeles Times)
Will these steps help? Stay tuned. Buying and maintaining a home can be a very emotional process for families. This is the largest purchase most individuals will make — and one with long-lasting effects. The home purchase process can also be confusing, and the terms of the loans offered are not always understandable for most of us (remember all the pages at closing!). It’s especially crucial in today’s economy that homeowners be aware of all the options available to them, and to avoid those deals that “sound too good to be true.” The results of the Obama Executive Orders will be seen in the weeks ahead.
Meantime, there are millions of homeowners today in desperate need of assistance with their housing issues. The CIN editors are watching many developments for you.
CIN’s Housing Section is a dependable reference tool for current and prospective homeowners. Information is updated on a daily basis. We offer details on various bank mortgage lending programs and mortgage banking programs to help borrowers understand the process they are entering as they select a home for purchase, or ways to maintain/refinance their home after purchase. It seems hardly a day goes by without another dramatic development. Consider these recent examples:
Mortgage refinancing to get easier under revised U.S. program
(Source: Los Angeles Times) New rules being implemented by the federal government will encourage borrowers to secure new loans no matter how much value their homes have lost during the nation’s housing crisis.
Obama looks to bypass Congress with help for homeowners, students
(Christian Science Monitor) President Obama is bypassing Congress and using executive powers to enact change. Strapped homeowners and indebted students are first in line under his relief plan.
SHRA to expand program to buy, rehab and resell foreclosed properties
(Source: Sacramento Press) The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency can now grant developers a first look at foreclosed properties for rehab and resale in Sacramento’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods – before the properties are put on the open market. Through the new program developers can purchase vacant, foreclosed properties at discounted prices and then rehabilitate and resell those properties.
Cost of Fannie & Freddie bailouts trimmed
(Source: CNN Money) The cost to taxpayers for bailing out mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won’t be quite as bad as previous estimates.
The FHA now estimates that the net cost of the bailouts through 2014 will be about $124 billion, down about 19% from an estimate of $154 billion a year ago.
Reverse Mortgages to be Scrutinized
(Source: Mortgage Loan.com) Older borrowers are getting a new resource to assist them with reverse mortgages and other financial matters, courtesy of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans is one of several entities being established under the new bureau, with the goal of promoting financial literacy among Americans age 62 and over, and protecting them from unfair and abusive practices regarding financial decisions.
Senate Adopts Measure to Increase Fannie, Freddie Loan Limits
(Source: Bloomberg) The U.S. Senate has adopted a measure that would raise the maximum size of a home loan backed by mortgage companies Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration to $729,750. The measure was approved less than a month after the limit on so-called conforming loans was automatically reduced to $625,500.
- The Pros & Cons of Reverse Mortgages (orangecountymortgage.co)
- National Mortgage Complaint Center Warns Homeowners About Mortgage Refinance Scams & Explains How Homeowners About To Refinance Can Save Money (prweb.com)
- Freddie Mac seeks $6 billion more in aid (bottomline.msnbc.msn.com)
Speaking before a joint Congressional Economic Committee, Federal Reverse Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the first step to initiating confidence in the private market is for Congress to create a clear blueprint for the housing sector.
“The housing sector has been a significant driver of recovery from most recessions in the United States since World War II,” Bernanke said. “This time, however, a number of factors–including the overhang of distressed and foreclosed properties, tight credit conditions for builders and potential homebuyers, and the large number of “underwater” mortgages (on which homeowners owe more than their homes are worth)–have left the rate of new home construction at only about one-third of its average level in recent decades.” Read more…