by Paul Kiel, ProPublica.
Over the past several years, we’ve reported extensively on the big banks’ foreclosure failings. As a result of banks’ disorganization and understaffing — particularly at the peak of the crisis in 2009 and 2010 — homeowners were often forced to run a gauntlet of confusion, delays, and errors when seeking a mortgage modification.
But while evidence of these problems was pervasive, it was always hard to quantify the damage. Just how many more people could have qualified under the administration’s mortgage modification program if the banks had done a better job? In other words, how many people have been pushed toward foreclosure unnecessarily?
A thorough study released last week provides one number, and it’s a big one: about 800,000 homeowners.
The study’s authors — from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the government’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Ohio State University, Columbia Business School, and the University of Chicago — arrived at this conclusion by analyzing a vast data set available to the OCC. They wanted to measure the impact of HAMP, the government’s main foreclosure prevention program.
What they found was that certain banks were far better at modifying loans than others. The reasons for the difference, they established, were pretty predictable: The banks that were better at helping homeowners avoid foreclosure had staff who were both more numerous and better trained.
Unfortunately for homeowners, most mortgages are handled by banks that haven’t been properly staffed and thus have modified far fewer loans. If these worse-performing banks had simply modified loans at the same pace as their better performing peers, then HAMP would have produced about 800,000 more modifications. Instead of about 1.2 million modifications by the end of this year, HAMP would have resulted in about 2 million.
That’s still well short of the 3-4 million modifications President Obama promised when he announced the program back in early 2009. But it’s a big difference, and a reasonable, basic benchmark against which to compare the program’s failings.
The report does not identify these poor performing banks, but it’s not hard to ID them. A “few large servicers [have offered] modifications at half the rate of others,” the authors say. The largest mortgage servicers are Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citi.
Rick Simon, a spokesman for Bank of America, said the banks’ “home retention results are significant and in line with our industry peers to date.”
The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) paid subsidies to mortgage servicers on the theory that doing so would convince them to embrace modifications. The authors say that voluntary approach apparently didn’t have much effect with the biggest servicers. They weren’t very good at modifying loans before HAMP was launched and weren’t much better after it launched.
The authors wrote that while they can’t be sure why these banks underperformed, they “may not have responded to the program since doing so would involve changing their business focus from processing and channeling payments to actively renegotiating loans. In addition, this may have involved significantly altering their organizational capabilities, such as building appropriate infrastructure and hiring and training servicing staff.”