The Foreclosure Deal – Unanswered Questions and Little Relief – NYTimes.com
At best, this round of relief will reach about two million former and current homeowners. Under the agreement, banks will grant some $10 billion worth of principal reduction, $3 billion in refinancings and $7 billion in other mortgage relief, like forbearance for unemployed borrowers, covering roughly one million borrowers in total. Another $1.5 billion will be cash payments of about $2,000 to some 750,000 borrowers who were treated unfairly in foreclosures from 2008 through 2011.
And $3.5 billion will go to state and federal governments for what has been described as resources for legal aid and other counseling for borrowers facing foreclosure. Such aid is vitally important, but it appears that the earmarked money also could be used to plug state budget holes, rather than empower homeowners in their fights against the banks. That would be a mistake.
What do banks get in exchange for the relief? The answer, in short, is a sweet deal.
The banks did not get the blanket release they originally sought from legal liability for all manner of mortgage misconduct. But the settlement still shields them from state and federal civil lawsuits for most foreclosure abuses, including the wrongful denial of loan modifications, excessive late fees that enriched the banks but could make it impossible for borrowers to catch up on late payments, and conflicts of interest that led banks to favor foreclosures over modifications. Going forward, the banks will have to adhere to tougher standards for servicing loans and executing foreclosures. But past sins in servicing and foreclosure are largely absolved.
The banks are not off the hook for criminal prosecutions related to the mortgage mess or for private lawsuits. They are also not off the hook for wrongdoing in their aggressive pooling of mortgages into securities and other practices that inflated the bubble. Thanks for the settlement’s narrower legal releases goes to New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, and a handful of other state attorneys general, who refused to accept a deal that would have blocked further legal action.
Which brings us back to the question of whether a new investigation will indeed get off the ground. We are skeptical. The Obama administration squandered several months resisting Mr. Schneiderman’s insistence on a broader investigation, raising questions about its willingness to now get tough with the banks and bankers. As a practical matter, that delay has allowed some potential violations to draw closer to expiration under statutes of limitation.