While America’s economy continues to recover, we should not forget those of our neighbors who are struggling.
Wall Street is reaching record levels and housing values are increasing. Yet, far too many Americans – many in our own community – continue to face the loss of their homes.
Nationally, U.S. foreclosure activity fell to a nearly six-year low in April, down nearly one-quarter from a year ago. However, in Maryland, where court supervision of foreclosure is required, the devastation of lost homes continues unabated.
Recently, the real estate tracking firm, RealtyTrac, reported that the number of scheduled foreclosure auctions in judicial foreclosure states reached a 30-month high. Maryland foreclosure sales in April were three times the number that occurred in April, 2012.
Analysts like RealtyTrac Vice-President Daren Blomquist believe that the more extensive supervision of foreclosures in states like Maryland is the primary reason that Maryland’s foreclosures are increasing while those in other states decline.
“These are homeowners who fell into trouble a year or two ago and are finally getting processed as foreclosures,” he recently observed.
Whatever may be the reason, the distress of these threatened homeowners is the same. Washington should be doing all that it can to minimize their pain.
Homeowners who are struggling should be treated fairly and in accordance with the rule of law. We now know, however, that some of our nation’s most powerful financial institutions have failed on both counts.
A number of mortgage servicers have now admitted that they broke the law by illegally foreclosing on American families and committing numerous other abuses.
Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Board and Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) entered into an agreement that required eleven of the largest mortgage servicers to pay more than $3 billion to borrowers who were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010. This settlement ended the mandated independent review of borrowers who had been harmed that these institutions had been ordered to conduct.
I have joined Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and House colleagues to hold these institutions and their federal regulators accountable. The senator and I have demanded information from regulators about that review and settlement – but without much success.
This is why, in a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing, Senator Warren chastised Fed and OCC representatives for failing to provide even the most basic information about the extent of the abuses that were uncovered.
For my part, since these regulators now plan to rely upon these same banks to determine payouts and deliver settlement funds to borrowers, I have concluded that we need an independent monitor to bring transparency and accountability to this process. A number of my House colleagues have joined me in proposing The Mortgage Settlement Monitoring Act of 2013 (H.R. 1706) that would do just that.
Here in Maryland, the growing economic pain demands immediate action.
During the last five years, my office has conducted seven foreclosure prevention seminars, bringing together thousands of homeowners on the brink of foreclosure with their lenders and mortgage servicers.
These seminars have been among the most heartbreaking, yet rewarding initiatives that I have undertaken in public life. Often, they have been moments of opportunity in which many struggling homeowners have received modifications to their mortgages or other tangible help.
The current spike in Maryland foreclosures demands that we maintain this process. Our eighth all-day foreclosure prevention workshop is scheduled for June 15 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Woodlawn Senior High School in Baltimore County.
We have many representatives from banks and mortgage servicing companies – including, Bank of America, Citi Mortgage, JP Morgan Chase and M&T Bank – to conduct one-on-one meetings with homeowners about their mortgages.
Homeowners will have the opportunity to speak with housing counselors and pro-bono attorneys. Representatives from Fannie Mae, the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also will be on hand to answer questions.
Before June 12, homeowners who are concerned about making their mortgage payments should prepare themselves to receive help by compiling the information and documentation noted in our advance registration form, available on-line at http://cummings.house.gov.
That preparation should include copies of a detailed hardship letter, two recent paystubs for income verification, their last two months’ bank statements, their 2011 and 2012 tax returns, the default letters or late notices from their lender, the foreclosure notices that they have received, a utility bill, and a list of monthly household expenses.
I urge all homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments to attend. You may be struggling, but you are not forgotten.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland's 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.