HUD Denied Our Fee Waiver for a FOIA Request About Reverse Mortgage Complaints

It would appear that HUD does not want CRC, nor the general public, to know more information about reverse mortgages, complaints about them, or foreclosures on surviving spouses.

In late 2014, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to HUD, asking, among other things for data related to:

  • the number of complaints that have been filed to HUD about reverse mortgages serviced by Financial Freedom;
  • any data on estimates of the number of non-borrowing spouses who could face foreclosure if their reverse mortgage borrowing spouse were to pass away;
  • the number of complaints made against Financial Freedom, a reverse mortgage servicer that is owned by OneWest Bank, a bank which is trying to merge with CIT Group; and
  • the number of foreclosures on surviving spouses by Financial Freedom since April 2009, and the number of foreclosures for the industry as a whole.

In December 2014, HUD denied our request for a fee waiver.   We appealed.

Today, we heard back that we have lost our appeal.  HUD’s letter to CRC suggests that we failed to meet the criteria that “the disclosure of the information would contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of government activities or operations.”

To understand why this is so problematic, consider why we submitted a FOIA request in the first place.

For years, reverse mortgage brokers have been telling couples that it is okay to remove the younger spouse from the title of the home in order for the older spouse to obtain a reverse mortgage.  Couples were told there was no chance the younger spouse would be kicked out if the older spouse were to pass away, or in other cases (like this one), they were told the younger spouse could be added onto the mortgage as soon as they turned 62.  All of this was done with HUD turning a blind eye to this practice.  Unfortunately, as the older spouses have passed away, reverse mortgage servicers have been moving to foreclose on the surviving spouse.

HUD is already being sued for enabling these foreclosures and as a result, a federal judge ordered HUD to develop a policy to assist theses non-borrowing, surviving spouses.  The policy that HUD announced in January is NOT expected to help any surviving spouses because it relies on the servicer’s discretion and because it would likely require the surviving spouse to come up with a large lump sum of cash.  For more on this, see today’s press release:  Advocates: Grandma May Get Run Over By HUD’s New Reverse Mortgage Policy

So, what should one conclude from HUD denying a fee waiver for our FOIA request because granting it would NOT contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of government activities or operations?

We feel the public would gain a lot from this knowledge.

A 2013 story below illustrate why we think it’s important for HUD to disclose this information.  Stay tuned to hear our next steps.

Reverse Mortgage Nightmare

WFMY News2Reverse Mortgage Nightmare: Widow Facing Foreclosure

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.– In 2007, a knock at Barbara Freeman front door, came with a great opportunity: to be debt-free and take care of her sick husband.

This year, another knock at that same door was a sheriff’s deputy serving foreclosure papers — and that’s when her nightmare began.

The widow is now at the brink of losing everything she and her husband worked for all because of a reverse mortgage. In the most simplified terms, reverse mortgages differ from “regular mortgages” because in the latter, a homeowner makes monthly payments to a lender.

Watch the full story here: Reverse Mortgage Nightmare: Widow Facing Foreclosure

 

Surviving Heirs Testify About Their Experiences with Financial Freedom and OneWest Bank Foreclosures

At a public hearing in February, widowed homeowners and surviving heirs were afforded the opportunity to speak about their experiences with Financial Freedom, a reverse mortgage servicer owned by OneWest Bank.  The focus of the hearing was the proposed merger of OneWest Bank with CIT Group.  If you’d like more information about this merger, visit CRC’s Merger Resource Page.  And, if you are a Financial Freedom customer, or you are a family member whose dealing with Financial Freedom, you may want to share your experiences with the Federal Reserve and OCC (they are making the decision about this merger), and you may also want to file a CFPB complaint. Please note: Any submission about the merger will become part of the public record and others will be able to see your submission.

1. Michael Allen’s story: “OneWest Bank (OWB) did not provide a Single Point of Contact nor provide any guidance or instruction to help me satisfy the loan. I initiated all calls to OWB and spoke to a different person with a different story and different reason to deny my requests.”

2. Elizabeth Lavullo’s story: “OneWest Bank refused to honor my letter of intent to repay the loan and refused to grant me the HUD authorized time to obtain a new loan.”

3. Julie Cheney’s story: “I was a Successor Trustee of my parents Trust when they were sold a Financial Freedom reverse mortgage they didn’t need, while my dad was in the last month of his life, with terminal cancer, on narcotic pain medication, and my mother had Alzheimer’s disease and could not complete a sentence.”

4. Noreen O’More’s story: “We called, emailed and faxed every week or two for status.  OWB kept delaying with one excuse after another for more than 18 months.”

5. Lisa Renard’s story: “Because of OWB’s refusal to refund any of the fraudulent funds, Mrs. Rinard was forced to live the last years of her life on Medi-Cal in a nursing home funded by taxpayer dollars.”

6. Karen Hunziker’s story:   Additionally OWB has failed to provide a Single Point of Contact. This creates a communication maze impossible to navigate for the consumer to get customer support or guidance.

One day, I called 5 times to verify I received the 90 day extension OWB promised in writing. I spoke to 5 different people all with a different story. In part, I was told:

• OWB didn’t receive the documents faxed multiple times,
• The documents needed to be reviewed by their legal department,
• I had to call back in 5 days
• I used up all my extensions.
• I didn’t get the documents in on time,
• The last person told me my property was scheduled for auction in 30 days.

At all times OWB refused to put any phone conversation in writing.

7. Sandy Jolley’s testimony:  “No couple thinks on their own ‘let’s get a reverse mortgage and take one of us off title so when the other dies the survivor can be evicted.'”

8. Jose Graulau’s story: “On 12/31 (New Year’s Eve) AlState Process Servers claimed they were hired by OWB to investigate my family and wanted documentation of all known and unknown relatives, either alive or deceased, and those born in or out of wedlock.”

9. Rachel Mehlsak’s (attorney at Bet Tzedek) testimony:”Another client I worked with had lived in her home for over 40 years.  She is elderly, disabled, and supports her daughter and four minor grandchildren on just her monthly Social Security income.  After her husband died, she had trouble maintaining her property tax payments, and OneWest, the parent company of her reverse mortgage lender, Financial Freedom, threatened to foreclose.

Eventually, OneWest initiated foreclosure against the client’s home one month sooner than HUD guidelines required.  OneWest did so even though HUD had just announced a 60-day extension of its foreclosure timeframes for surviving spouses like my client and even though I had asked Financial Freedom multiple times to postpone the foreclosure proceedings.  I was able to help the client obtain a one-month extension of the foreclosure – an outcome she wouldn’t have received without representation – but ultimately OneWest went through with the foreclosure sale.  Three generations of my client’s family were kicked out of their home for less than $1300 owed to Financial Freedom.”

 

Bet Tzedek Testimony at OneWest CIT Group Merger Federal Reserve Hearing

The testimony of Rachel Mehlsak, attorney with Bet Tzedek, about the proposed OneWest and CIT Group merger is featured in its entirety below. If you were unable to attend the hearing, CRC live-blogged it here and you may also find our CIT Group/OneWest Merger resource page helpful as well. Pictures are available here.

CIT Group/OneWest

JOINT PUBLIC MEETING

Held by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

February 26, 2015

Good morning.  My name is Rachel Mehlsak, and I’m an attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles.  Bet Tzedek pursues equal justice for all by providing free legal services to low-income, disabled and elderly people of all racial and religious backgrounds. We use direct legal services, impact litigation, community outreach and legislative advocacy in the areas of consumer rights, employment rights, elder law, Holocaust reparations, housing, public benefits and real estate to serve more than 20,000 people every year.

Bet Tzedek is also the lead agency of the California Consumer Justice Coalition – a group of five legal aid agencies in Southern California funded by the California Attorney General with proceeds from the National Mortgage Settlement.  The Coalition provides legal services and housing counseling to individuals facing foreclosure and other consumer debt issues.

As part of my work in Bet Tzedek’s real estate unit and through the Coalition’s foreclosure prevention efforts, I’ve worked with many homeowners, mostly seniors, trying to save their homes from foreclosure.

My colleagues and I have seen firsthand the distress caused by OneWest Bank in its rush to pursue foreclosure, particularly against elderly clients with reverse mortgages serviced by its Financial Freedom division.  One elderly Bet Tzedek client was threatened with foreclosure by Financial Freedom for not making repairs to her home.  But the client’s original lender, IndyMac, had refused to release the funds that were set aside for the repairs, effectively preventing the client from making the repairs and then punishing her for not doing it.  Moreover, Financial Freedom had let the client’s affordable hazard insurance lapse, and then force-placed her with a OneWest-affiliated company at an exorbitantly higher rate.

Another client I worked with had lived in her home for over 40 years.  She is elderly, disabled, and supports her daughter and four minor grandchildren on just her monthly Social Security income.  After her husband died, she had trouble maintaining her property tax payments, and OneWest, the parent company of her reverse mortgage lender, Financial Freedom, threatened to foreclose.

Eventually, OneWest initiated foreclosure against the client’s home one month sooner than HUD guidelines required.  OneWest did so even though HUD had just announced a 60-day extension of its foreclosure timeframes for surviving spouses like my client and even though I had asked Financial Freedom multiple times to postpone the foreclosure proceedings.  I was able to help the client obtain a one-month extension of the foreclosure – an outcome she wouldn’t have received without representation – but ultimately OneWest went through with the foreclosure sale.  Three generations of my client’s family were kicked out of their home for less than $1300 owed to Financial Freedom.

Bet Tzedek’s name is a reflection of its mission – the pursuit of justice.  We think it would be particularly unjust to the clients and communities we serve to permit the CIT/OneWest merger to proceed without a much stronger, comprehensive, and public CRA commitment.  These banks are receiving tremendous financial support through public subsidies and guarantees.  It is only just that they make a substantial reinvestment commitment to the communities from whom they’ve already taken so much before they are allowed to grow even bigger and take even more.

Thank you.

Saving Homes in Bankruptcy Webinar on January 13th 2015

The HBOR Collaborative presents a webinar on Saving Homes in Bankrupty on Jan 13, 2015 at 12pm (PST)  Register now: Registration Page

Bankruptcy is one of the most effective tools for preventing foreclosure. From the automatic stay to the ability to cure mortgage arrears, bankruptcy can help save homes. But the power of bankruptcy goes beyond these two critical provisions. Any advocate working to preserve homeownership needs to know what bankruptcy can and cannot do for clients in financial distress. We will highlight the various ways in which bankruptcy can help clients keep their homes.

Presenters: Sarah Bolling Mancini and Tara Twomey, National Consumer Law Center

San Francisco-based housing advocacy center, the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), and its project partners, Western Center on Law & Poverty, the National Consumer Law Center, and Tenants Together (the HBOR Collaborative) provide free assistance to California consumer attorneys on the state’s new Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR) and other state and federal foreclosure-related laws. The HBOR Collaborative’s free services include education, advocacy, technical assistance, litigation support, a listserv for attorneys, and extensive web-based attorney resources.

The HBOR Collaborative also provides internet webinars and live trainings in areas throughout California. Past webinar materials are archived on our website. To learn more about California HBOR, access HBOR resource materials, and to register for this and any future trainings, consumer attorneys should go to www.calhbor.org

Consumer attorneys can also contact HBOR collaborative staff for individual assistance with questions and cases via our webpage, www.calhbor.org.

The HBOR Collaborative and its services, including this free training for attorneys, are funded by a grant from the Office of the Attorney General of California from the National Mortgage Settlement to assist CA consumers.

There is no charge for this webinar.

All time listings are in Pacific (California) time.
1.5 hours of MCLE will be provided by NHLP.

For more information email lmahoney@nclc.org

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

City of Los Angeles Lawsuit Against Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Bank of America

Wrecking Ball

Last Friday, the City of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase for targeting minorities for predatory mortgages and the subsequent economic damage when these loans went into default.  The City Attorney, Mike Feuer, has already sued Wells Fargo, Citigroup Inc, and Bank of America for the same issues.

As Edvard Pettersson reported in Bloomberg News last week (Wells Fargo Can’t Shake L.A. Lawsuit Over Predatory Loans), a judge denied Wells Fargo’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.   The lawsuit cites research (The Wall Street Wrecking Ball: What Foreclosures Are Costing Los Angeles Neighborhoods) by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the California Reinvestment Coalition, which found homeowners in Los Angeles lost about $78.8 billion in home value as the result of 200,000 foreclosures from 2008 through 2012 and lost property tax revenues of $481 million.

In addition to the City of Los Angeles, CRC and ACCE also looked at Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento to assess the financial damage caused by predatory lending.  See chart below.  (Note: reports were published in September 2011)

Meanwhile, David Dayen questions in the Guardian (Foreclosed outta Compton: can LA stop racist mortgage lending by big banks?) if the City of Los Angeles will produce better results in their lawsuit than other cities have fared.

Beyond the bad loans being targeted to minority borrowers, a GAO report released a few months ago supports CRC’s position that homeowners of color and homeowners whose primary language isn’t English are receiving worse results when they do seek a loan modification.

The GAO found statistically significant differences in the rates of denials and cancellations of trial modifications and in the potential for re-default between populations protected by fair lending laws and other populations.

For three of four servicers analyzed, denial rates for failure to provide information to servicers were higher for Latino borrowers, as CRC found in our earlier report, “Race to the Bottom,” put out jointly with Urban Strategies Council.  Counselors have pointed out in multiple CRC surveys that servicers not translating their written letters to borrowers or providing low quality verbal translation services may mean borrowers miss out on important notices, for example, a request for additional information.  See GAO Report here: TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM: More Efforts Needed on Fair Lending Controls and Access for Non-English Speakers in Housing Programs

City Property Tax Loss Lost Home Value Est. Cost for City Services on Foreclosed Homes
Oakland $75.3 million $12.3 billion $224 million
Los Angeles $481 million 78.8 billion $1.2 billion
San Francisco $42 million 6.9 billion $73.4 million
Sacramento $108 million 17.7 billion $620 million
San Jose $135 million $22 billion $288 million

The Wall Street Wrecking Ball: What Foreclosures are Costing Neighborhoods
September 15, 2011 
CRC joined with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to analyze the full impact of foreclosures on a local level in five cities– Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose. Foreclosures lead to decreased home values in neighborhoods, lost property tax revenues, and increased costs to local government. The reports include policy recommendations that would stop the wave of foreclosures and stabilize communities.
For a link to the Oakland report,click here 
For a link to the Los Angeles report,click here 
For a link to the San Francisco report,click here 
For a link to the Sacramento report,click here 
For a link to the San Jose reportclick here.

CHASM BETWEEN WORDS AND DEEDS X: How Ongoing Mortgage Servicing Problems Hurt California Homeowners and Hardest-Hit Communities

Report Cover

“At least we can point to the GSE guidance as a starting place, and now the CFPB rule to help give us a leg up [on widows and orphans problems].  But what’s happening to all of the widows and orphans without representation?  Servicers have not changed their practices and will not unless there is auditing and enforcement.” -California Housing Counselor

A new report from the California Reinvestment Coalition, features survey results of over 60 housing counselors and legal service lawyers throughout California, as well as the stories of 11 homeowners who worked with Housing and Economic Rights Advocates to overcome challenges in trying to keep their homes.

The story was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition on Tuesday May, 20 in a story by Chris Arnold: Foreclosure Overhaul Comes Too Slowly For Many Homeowners.  It was also covered in the East Bay Express by Darwin BondGraham: Report: When It Comes to Mortgage Loan Servicing, Banks Are Still Failing to Comply With the Law, (5/20/14) and by Antonie Boessenkool in the LA Register: Foreclosure woe hit minorities hard, survey shows (5/21/14).

A blog post about the new report, authored by Kevin Stein, Associate Director at CRC, and Divya Rao, a Cornell Legal Fellow working at CRC was also featured on American Banker’s blog BankThink: Regulators Must Bolster Homeowner Protections.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

California families and neighborhoods have been suffering greatly under the weight of the foreclosure crisis for years. Despite various programs, policies and settlement agreements that were intended to prevent unnecessary foreclosures, too many families have lost their homes or are at risk of doing so. And the foreclosure crisis, with its devastating impact on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, is far from over.[1]

For the last few years, the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) has been surveying the nonprofit housing counselors and legal service lawyers who advocate to prevent unneeded foreclosures and who are on the front lines of the crisis, in order to document the efficacy of foreclosure prevention efforts. The findings of these surveys have shown that banks and loan servicers have done a poor job in following the rules and in preserving homeownership and stabilizing neighborhoods. Last year’s survey looked at key provisions of the National Mortgage Settlement (NMS) and California’s landmark Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR) and found evidence of widespread noncompliance.

More recently, enforcement actions by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have resulted in settlement agreements with servicers that call for billions of dollars of relief to be provided to struggling homeowners. And, importantly, the CFPB’s new mortgage servicing rules, which clarify and strengthen the protections that are due homeowners in danger of foreclosure, went into effect on January 10, 2014.

But have banks and servicers changed their practices so that homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure, especially in the hardest hit communities, have a fighting chance to do so?

In light of the new CFPB rules, CRC conducted this tenth survey of housing counselors in order to discern whether conditions have improved for homeowners and their communities.

Sixty-six (66) counselors and legal service advocates responded to this survey, which was distributed in February, March and April of 2014 and asked about advocate and homeowner experiences after the CFPB servicing rules went into effect. In addition, attorneys from Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) collected homeowner declarations in order to tell the story of homeowner challenges and frustrations.

Though counselors report moderate improvement in servicer practices from prior years, they continue to report frustration with poor servicer responsiveness, and violations of existing standards mandated by the National Mortgage Settlement, California Homeowner Bill of Rights, and new CFPB servicing rules.

Key findings include:

  1. Problems and Violations Persist– Counselors most frequently cited failures with Single Points of Contact (SPOCs), but also noted problems with lost documents, the lack of servicer accountability for following the rules, borrowers falling through the cracks during loan servicing transfers, failure to follow prescribed timelines for responding to borrowers, added barriers facing widows and orphans and other successors in interest, and inadequate access for Limited English Proficient borrowers.
  2. Complaints against the largest banks continue, but, increasingly, non-bank servicers are listed among the worst.For the second straight year, Wells Fargo was cited most often as the worst servicer, with Bank of America coming in second. But Nationstar and Ocwen also were noted to be problematic. In recent years, billions of dollars in mortgage servicing rights have been transferred by banks to non-bank servicers. Nationstar and Ocwen now have 17% of the servicing market, up from 3% in 2010. Regulators are starting to review the sale of servicing rights,[2] but more scrutiny of mortgage servicing transfers is needed.
  3. Too soon to tell if CFPB Servicing Rules are making a difference. Most counselors felt it was too early to determine if the rules are working, while a quarter of respondents felt the rules were not effective, and 13% said the rules are working.
  4. Many issues are not sufficiently addressed by the new servicing rules. Counselors identified a large number of areas where they wish stronger rules existed, including: accountability for wrongdoing, Single Point of Contact, “widows and orphans,”and mortgage servicing transfers.
  5. Borrowers and neighborhoods of color and Limited English Proficient borrowers fare worse. Over half of respondents felt that such borrowers and communities were still receiving worse outcomes when trying to save their homes.
  6. The widows and orphans issue is not yet solved. Many widows, orphans, and others who inherit or have an ownership interest in property have faced foreclosure upon the death of a loved one because they were not listed on the loan, and the servicer would not work with them so that they could keep the family home. Despite new federal rules and guidelines designed to help, forty out of forty-six respondents felt that widows, orphans, and similar homeowners still face greater obstacles in trying to secure a loan modification.

In order to prevent unnecessary foreclosures, stabilize California communities, and ensure that no communities or groups of homeowners are discriminated against in the implementation of servicing reforms and the distribution of relief, we need:

  • Enforcement of the rules by federal and state regulators, to the full extent possible.
  • Enforcement of existing rules regarding widows and orphans, and new federal and state rules to increase protections.
  • Increased funding of counselors and legal service lawyers.
  • Fair lending transparency so the public can know if rules and relief are being applied fairly.
  • Independent fair lending audits at servicer shops.

Homeowner Documents Still Getting Lost

Gemma and Cornelio Jaochico fell behind on their mortgage at the end of November 2010 when Gemma lost her job. They applied for a mortgage modification from Wells Fargo in early July.  They received two letters, both dated July 8, 2013, each indicating a different SPOC. They contacted their SPOC, but that person was later reassigned. Mr. and Mrs. Jaochico received a letter asking for more documents, which they faxed in. Wells Fargo said that this was enough to postpone the sale of their Castro Valley home. However, this was not true—after playing phone tag with Wells Fargo, they discovered in late November 2013 that Wells Fargo had sold their house in foreclosure on October 30, 2013.  The Jaochicos only learned of the sale of their home after being informed by a real estate agent. They also found out that Wells Fargo had filed an eviction against them.

Wells Fargo told HERA attorneys that Wells Fargo had sent communications that Mr. and Mrs. Jaochico had not in fact received. Wells also said that they could not undo the foreclosure because Wells Fargo was not at fault.  The Jaochicos and HERA asked Wells Fargo to actually review the Jaochicos for a loan modification and cancel the foreclosure if the Jaochicos qualified, and this would be in the best interest of the investor as well.

Wells Fargo then indicated that the investor on the loan would not allow a modification, and that modification was therefore not an option. The Joachicos then, with help from their family, offered to pay the full amount they were behind on the loan. Wells Fargo refused to accept this payment and refused to delay the eviction.  Feeling they had no alternative, Mr. and Mrs. Jaochico moved out of their house on February 28, 2014. [Summary of declaration of Gemma and Cornelio Jaochico, full declaration can be found in the Appendix]

INTRODUCTION

California borrowers and neighborhoods have been suffering greatly under the weight of the foreclosure crisis. Too many families continue to be at risk of unnecessarily losing their sole wealth building asset; risk having to uproot their children from their schools; risk losing the home where they have been dutifully paying rent because their former landlord lost the house to foreclosure and the new landlord wants higher rents and more affluent tenants; and risk leaving their communities with a blighted, vacant property that brings down neighborhood property values and reduces the local tax base.

Counselors respond “Transfer of servicer too often caus[es] disruption in the flow of processing papers. New servicer [claim] they don’t have doc[ument]s [and] loan modification trial payments [get] messed up. Therefore, no permanent loan modification is given.”

Foreclosures have plagued the state and will continue to do so, despite servicer promises to help, settlement agreements and laws requiring them to help, and programs like the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and Keep Your Home California (KYHC), which essentially pay the servicers to provide foreclosure assistance to struggling borrowers.[3]

For years, the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) has been surveying the nonprofit housing counselors and legal service lawyers who advocate to prevent unneeded foreclosures and who are on the front lines of the crisis, in order to document the efficacy of foreclosure prevention efforts. The findings of these surveys have shown that banks and loan servicers have failed to follow federal and state laws and regulations which are meant to protect homeowners and encourage loan modifications where that makes sense for homeowners and the owners of the loans.

Last year’s survey looked at key provisions of the National Mortgage Settlement (NMS) and California’s landmark Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR) and found widespread noncompliance.

More recently, enforcement actions by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have resulted in settlements calling for billions of dollars of consumer relief to be provided to struggling homeowners. And importantly, the CFPB’s new mortgage servicing rules, which clarify and strengthen the protections that are due homeowners, went into effect on January 10, 2014.

But have servicers changed practices so that homeowners struggling to avoid foreclosure, especially in the hardest hit communities, have a fighting chance to do so?

In light of the new CFPB rules, CRC conducted this tenth survey to discern whether conditions have improved for homeowners and their communities.

METHODOLOGY

CRC distributed this survey to housing counselors in February, March and April of 2014. The survey asked about counselor experiences in 2014, after the CFPB servicing rules went into effect. Sixty-six (66) counselors and legal service advocates responded to the survey. Though counselors report moderate improvement from prior years, the results were still disheartening. The survey represents the first comprehensive attempt to assess changes to servicing practices since CFPB servicing rules went into effect on January 10, 2014.

Counselors respond: “Still not having assistance available to Limited English Proficient borrowers for their native language, especially Asian languages.”

Survey questions asked counselors: what were the biggest problems they were seeing with loan servicers; who were the worst loan servicers; whether they felt the new servicing rules were having any effect; the top issues not fully addressed by the rules; whether Limited English Proficient borrowers, or borrowers and neighborhoods of color were receiving worse loan modification outcomes; and whether new federal rules protecting “widows and orphans” and other successors in interest were being followed.

This year’s survey also includes the experiences of homeowners in trying to avoid foreclosure.  Borrower declarations were prepared by attorneys at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA).  A few of the selected stories and declarations are included within this report, and additional stories and declarations will be shared with regulators.

Incorrect HAMP Denials and Wrong Investor

Enrique Hurtado fell behind on his mortgage payments on his American Canyon home in January of 2013, due to financial hardship. In March 2013, he applied to Bank of America, for a HAMP modification. Bank of America denied his application, with only the vague explanation of why. With HERA’s help, Mr. Hurtado appealed his denial to Bank of America and requested further explanation of the reason for his denial. Bank of America denied this appeal and refused to provide further information to Mr. Hurtado, so HERA submitted a complaint to the HAMP Solutions Center.

On June 7, Bank of America again denied Mr. Hurtado’s modification request, this time offering a new reason, namely investor restrictions by Goldman Sachs.  In August 2013, HERA discovered that the investor was not Goldman Sachs, but Bank of New York. HERA proceeded to file several complaints and appeals with various agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Finally, in September 2013, Bank of America offered Mr. Hurtado a non-HAMP modification on terms which they previously said they could not offer. [Summary of declaration of Enrique Hurtado, full declaration dated Feb 2, 2014 can be found in the appendix]

 

KEY FINDINGS

1. Servicing abuses persist

The National Mortgage Settlement, the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, and the new CFPB servicing rules set clear standards for banks and loan servicers to follow regarding how they interact with homeowners and process their requests for assistance. One key obligation is the duty to provide homeowners a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) to help them navigate the complicated loan modification process, to have someone they can reach with questions, and to provide them with consistent and timely information. Other measures are meant to ensure all borrowers are treated fairly and have a meaningful opportunity to seek and secure any assistance for which they qualify.  Counselors were invited to report the biggest problems they were seeing.

Their responses confirm data and trends from across the U.S. that servicers continue to fail to meet basic standards:

  • Biggest complaint: Unavailable SPOCS

By far, the largest complaint of housing counselors is the failure of loan servicers to provide SPOCs that are accessible and knowledgeable. Nearly every single respondent cited poor SPOCs as one of the three biggest problems they see in loan servicing. This is consistent with national complaint data compiled as part of the National Mortgage Settlement.[4] A recent report by Fannie Mae underscores the importance of effective SPOCs, finding that homeowners who remembered being assigned a SPOC were twice as likely to receive and accept a mortgage modification and half as likely to be denied a modification.[5]

  • Next most frequent complaints: Lost documents and lack of accountability

Approximately one-third of respondents reported that servicers losing documents or asking for the same documents over and over again continues to be a major problem. A similar number of counselors highlighted their frustration that there was often nothing to be done when servicers were ignorant of, or blatantly failed to follow, the rules.

Multiple Requests for the Same Documents

In March 2013, Josefina Duenas fell behind on her mortgage payments on her Oakland home when her spouse lost his job. She applied for a HAMP modification with HERA’s help, but her lender, US Bank was slow to respond. They frequently requested additional documents before they could complete the modification review, and eventually closed her application while wrongly claiming she failed to return documents she had submitted several times. Even after HERA submitted two complaints to the HAMP Solutions Center for wrongful denial and losing documents and failure to provide an update on the modification review, and after Ms. Duenas reapplied for a HAMP modification, US Bank still was slow to respond and made several additional requests for documents. Finally, in December of 2013, US Bank offered Ms. Duenas a modification. Without HERA’s assistance, the Duenas believe they would have lost their home.   [Summary of declaration of Josefina Duenas, full declaration dated February 4, 2014 can be found in the Appendix]

  • Also frequently cited: Mortgage Servicing Transfers, failure to follow timelines, and improper loan mod denials

Approximately a quarter of respondents noted the growing and serious problem of homeowners falling through the cracks when loan servicing is transferred from one company to another, the failure of servicers to respond in a timely fashion to document submissions, and the belief that servicers make incorrect decisions as to whether a borrower is entitled to loan modification relief. The recently released report on the flawed Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR) process suggests that banks erred on an unacceptably high percentage of cases (PNC: 26%; Wells Fargo: 19%; Bank of America: 10%) with over 9% of all financial harm inducing errors constituting ‘modification denials in error’ confirming that large numbers of homeowners have likely been improperly pushed to foreclosure due to servicer error.[6]

Incorrect Denials of Modifications, Delays, and Inaccurate Information Given to Homeowners

Arminda Garcia fell behind on her mortgage payments to Bank of America due to financial hardship caused by health problems and her husband losing his job. In February 2012, Ms. Garcia paid an attorney to help her apply for a mortgage modification, and in July she received two Bank of America denial letters, each stating a different reason for denial.  Ms. Garcia didn’t understand either letter, and both turned out to be inaccurate. In September 2012, Ms. Garcia began working with HERA to reapply for modification.

In October 2012, Ms. Garcia resubmitted her HAMP application to Bank of America with HERA’s help. After taking more than three months to re-review Ms. Garcia’s application, Bank of America again erroneously denied her in February 2013. After acknowledging its error, Bank of America asked Ms. Garcia to resubmit her application yet again.

Several months later, in June and July 2013, when HERA contacted Bank of America to find out why the review was taking so long, Bank of America told HERA that it was waiting for approval from Wells Fargo, the investor on Ms. Garcia’s loan. However, when HERA contacted Wells Fargo, Wells Fargo said that Bank of America hadn’t submitted any request for approval.

In October 2013, more than a year and a half after she first applied and after multiple incorrect denials, Bank of America finally offered Ms. Garcia a HAMP modification trial plan. Ms. Garcia believes that Bank of America would have foreclosed on her without HERA’s assistance. [Summary of declaration of Arminda Garcia, full declaration dated Dec 2, 2013 can be found in the appendix]

  •  Dishonorable mentions: Dual track and failure to serve widows and orphans and Limited English Proficient borrowers.

Counselors also noted continuing problems with dual track violations, where servicers illegally process foreclosures while homeowners are seeking loan modification review. In addition, counselors report that servicers still place additional barriers in the path of widows, orphans and other successors in interest, making it harder for them to stay in their homes. And servicers continue to poorly serve homeowners who speak non-English languages, not accepting documentation in languages other than English, not making SPOCs available who speak the preferred language of the borrowers, and not conducting outreach in the languages spoken by their customers.

How Bank Dysfunction Pushes Homeowners towards Foreclosure

In 2010, small business owners Nick and Kimberly Cavanaugh fell behind on expenses as their business suffered due to the downturn in the economy. They applied for a HAMP loan modification for their Napa home, but were denied. After this denial, Mr. and Mrs. Cavanaugh were unable to make payments from June-September 2011. During this time, they submitted another application and, this time, Bank of America verbally approved them for a loan modification. However, Bank of America never sent them the modification paperwork.

When pressed on its failure to send a written modification offer, Bank of America then claimed the investor did not permit any type of modification and that it was now denying the Cavanaugh’s application. However, when HERA contacted the Master Servicer for the investor, Wells Fargo, Wells Fargo confirmed that Bank of America could in fact approve the loan modification. After HERA confronted Bank of America with this information, Bank of America offered the Cavanaughs a permanent loan modification, which they signed and returned in January 2012.  However, Bank of America did not honor this loan modification because, as it later stated, it had made an error in drafting it. Instead, more than six months later, Bank of America sent the Cavanaughs a new modification agreement with a higher loan balance and higher monthly payments.  The Cavanaughs signed and returned this agreement as well. Incredibly, Bank of America failed to honor this second written loan modification agreement as well.

In April 2013, Bank of America sent the Cavanaughs yet another corrected loan modification agreement.  However, even then Bank of America continued to make errors on their account. Even though the Cavanaughs had made every payment on the modification since the first agreement in January 2012, Bank of America incorrectly entered the final modification into its accounting system, and so now told them that they were four months behind on the payments. Bank of America did not manage to correct its errors on the Cavanaughs’ account until more than two years after their initial application. [Summary of declaration of Nick and Kimberly Cavanaugh, full declaration dated December 12, 2013 can be found in the Appendix]

2. Old fixtures and new upstarts among those voted worst servicer

Servicers

Counselors were asked to identify the worst servicers in their experience. Over twenty servicers were so identified. But only four servicers were named by twenty or more housing counselors.

  • For the second year in a row, Wells Fargo was named the worst servicer. It received the most votes as #1 worst servicer, as well as the most votes overall (32).
  • Bank of America came in second again, with 27 of 66 respondents citing it as among the three worst servicers.
  • Close behind were Nationstar and Ocwen, two large non-bank servicers who have greatly expanded the volume of loans they service in California and elsewhere. Nationstar was named as among the worst servicers by 23 counselors, and Ocwen was named as among the worst servicers by 21 counselors. Ocwen recently entered into a settlement agreement with the CFPB[7], and has had its deal to purchase $2.7 billion in servicing rights from Wells Fargo put on hold amidst questions about conflicts of interest put forth by the New York Department of Financial Services.[8]
Homeowner comments: “Without HERA’s assistance, I would have lost the house in foreclosure because of Bank of America’s inaccurate review and erroneous denials.  I would have believed them when they told me that I didn’t qualify for help, even though they were not telling me the truth, because I didn’t have enough information to dispute it.”

These California counselor responses are consistent with complaints filed with the CFPB by California consumers. According to the CFPB complaint database, the most complaints relating to loan modification and loan servicing in California have been filed against Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Ocwen, JPMorgan Chase, and Nationstar, in that order.

3.    At the time of the survey, respondents felt it was too early to tell if the CFPB servicing rules were making a difference.

CFPB’s much anticipated mortgage servicing rules took effect January 10, 2014. The rules are important in that they continue the trend of establishing uniform national standards for loan servicing, and they clarify and expand certain protections. Significantly, the new federal rules do not preempt or supersede any state foreclosure laws that may be stronger, like California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights.

The survey asked counselors if the new CFPB servicing rules were having an effect on servicer conduct and compliance. Though the rules were in effect for only weeks or months when counselors completed the survey, servicers were given plenty of notice and should have reconfigured their operations long before January 10, 2014 in order to ensure compliance when the rules went live.

For the most part, however, counselors felt it was too soon to tell whether the rules were having any effect.

  • 61.9% of respondents, said “It’s too early to tell,” if the rules are working.
  • 25.4% of respondents, said, “No, things are the same.”
  • 12.7% of respondents, said, “Yes, the rules are improving servicer practices.”

New Rules

Loan Servicing Transfer Results in Improper Foreclosure

Carlos Castillo and his wife purchased their home in Vallejo in 1988. In 2011, Mr. Castillo was injured on the job and as a result, his income dropped. They hired a company to help them secure a loan modification, but the company took their money and did not help them. As a result, the Castillos fell further behind on their mortgage. In July of 2012, HERA helped the Castillos apply for a loan modification, and they received a trial plan from Bank of America. The Castillos made all of the payments on time. In December 2012, Mr. Castillo signed the final loan modification paperwork from Bank of America.

In February 2013, Bank of America transferred the Castillo’s loan servicing to Nationstar. On March 13, 2013, Mr. Castillo learned that his home had been sold into foreclosure when a woman called to say he had three days to leave his home. HERA was able to get Nationstar to cancel the foreclosure and on May 6, 2013, the Castillos signed new loan modification documents with Nationstar. But throughout the whole ordeal, Mr. Castillo continued to receive automated calls from Nationstar, sometimes three or four a day.

On July 9th 2013, Mr. Castillo came home to find a Notice of Trustee Sale posted to his front door, and later received 12 copies of the notice in the mail. HERA contacted Nationstar to halt the sale, as final modification documents were received from Nationstar in June. But Mr. Castillo’s next monthly statement included $1,339.31 in legal fees for the wrongful foreclosure Nationstar processed. Nationstar eventually removed the fees. Despite doing everything that Bank of America and Nationstar asked of them, the Castillos faced foreclosure on more than one occasion, and endured constant stress and panic. [Summary of declaration of Carlos Castillo, full declaration dated May 13, 2014 can be found in the Appendix]

4.    CFPB servicing rules could go further in protecting homeowners, and enforcement of existing rules is critical.

Counselors respond: “[The rules have] no teeth. [Servicers] break a rule and, they say ‘so what?’”

Counselors were asked to list up to three issues that were not dealt with sufficiently by the new CFPB servicing rules. Some counselors skipped the question, and others responded by indicating they could not identify any gaps. But most counselors did identify issues that were not sufficiently addressed by the rules. The category identified most often by counselors related to accountability. This highlights the need for CFPB and other regulators to enforce the rules and to penalize noncompliance. The story of the foreclosure crisis to date has been an inability to develop adequately protective rules that can prevent abuse. Even where helpful rules are in place, there is little to no consequence for the servicers’ continued noncompliance with those rules. The private right of action (ability to sue) in the California Homeowner Bill of Rights highlights this dynamic, as advocates and industry watchers have noted that servicers did slow the foreclosure process and fewer abuses were reported after the effective date of HBOR with its strong protections and private right of action. The lack of a clear and credible enforcement mechanism of strong rules may have doomed other regulatory responses to the foreclosure crisis to date.

Biggest concern: Will rules be enforced? A plurality of respondents expressed concern that the new rules would not be enforced and/or emphasized the need for strong enforcement. Nearly half of respondents identified issues that we labeled “accountability issues.”

Next biggest issues not addressed: SPOCs, mortgage servicing transfers, and widows and orphans. While the CFPB has addressed each of these areas in its rule making and guidance, the level of concern about the prevalence and impact of these problems argues for heightened scrutiny by CFPB. The CFPB should look to strongly enforce protections that exist relating to these areas, and consider whether additional rule making enhancements are necessary to adequately protect consumers.

Loan Servicing Transferred in the Middle of Trial Modification Causes House to Almost be Foreclosed

Emilio and Maria Contreras were approved for a HAMP trial modification by Bank of America.  After they made their first trial payment in June 2013, their loan servicing was transferred to Nationstar.  When they sent their second trial payment to Nationstar in late July, Nationstar refused to accept the payment and told the homeowners they had to pay $21,708.41 to bring their account current.

On August 16, the borrowers found a Notice of Trustee’s Sale posted on their front door.  They were confused and scared and called Nationstar right away, but were only told to call back within 2 weeks of the sale.  With help from HERA attorneys, they got the trustee sale cancelled, and Nationstar started accepting the trial modification payments.

The modification should have been finalized in October 2013, but because of further errors by Nationstar – including trying to charge the borrowers over $1,000 for the wrongful trustee sale notice – it took until January 2014 for Nationstar to finalize their permanent modification and fully reconcile their account.  [Summary of declaration of Emilio and Maria Contreras, full declaration dated May 14, 2014 can be found in the Appendix]

After 2 Year Saga, Mortgage Finally Modified, but then Servicing is Transferred

Teresa Rowland first requested mortgage assistance from JPMorgan Chase in 2008, after she suffered a financial hardship. After years of effort, she was offered a permanent HAMP modification in October 2011. Though she has made every payment called for by the modification agreement on time, Chase failed to make the modification permanent, and continued to treat the loan as in default, bombarding her with calls and letters saying she was over a hundred thousand dollars in default, and accusing her of not making payments.

Chase sent four different loan modification agreements to the Rowland family over two years;  the second and third—received in January 2012 and May 2013—contained substantially worse terms than the original loan modification, and included errors in the unpaid principal balance, the current due date and the modification terms.  Chase made a shocking series of mistakes on Ms. Rowland’s case, a number of which Chase has acknowledged.  In February of 2013, a representative from Chase’s Executive Offices assigned specifically to resolve the problem even said he was stunned and “mystified” by the situation.

The Rowland family finally received a final loan modification agreement in July, 2013 that substantially tracked the original loan modification agreement. But just when Ms. Rowland thought the incredible saga was behind her, she learned that her loan had been transferred to Select Portfolio Servicing starting August 1, 2013. Two months after the transfer, SPS had not honored the modification agreement, and was still treating Ms. Rowland’s loan as in default.[Summary of declaration of Teresa Rowland, full declaration dated October 15, 2013 can be found in the Appendix]

Dishonorable mention: Lack of definition as to what constitutes a “complete loan modification application;” dual track violations; failure to properly serve Limited English Proficient (LEP) borrowers; and timeline violations. These issues were identified by a number of counselors as areas not sufficiently addressed by the new servicing rules. Dual track violations, failure to assist LEP borrowers and inordinate delays in processing loan modification applications have plagued homeowners for years. The need to clarify what constitutes a “complete loan modification” in order to fully protect homeowners against dual track and other abuses was first raised by California Monitor Katherine Porter as her office monitored servicer performance under the National Mortgage Settlement.[9]

A plethora of suggestions. Counselors identified several areas not easily categorized, that they felt were not fully addressed by the CFPB servicing rules. A sampling of these issues include:

  • “There must be an easier way to handle the whole modification process.”
  •  [The trial modification agreements mention no terms] except the payment. There never is a breakdown of escrow, interest rate, or the term of the loan. Clients are left in the dark and are forced to make the trial payments if they want a permanent modification.
  •  Certain rights should not [be] tied to a single application (i.e. [borrowers] lose rights even if reapplying [because] of change in circ[umstance]s or servicer error)
  • Look-back period for requests for escrow info[rmation] should not have been shortened ([as they were in] RESPA).
  • “Acceptable profit and loss for self-employed.”
  • [Banks should] cooperate with short sales/postponements.
  • Definition of “loss mitigation”.
  • “The same guidelines for all servicers.”
  • “High Fees, which seem predatory and [Servicer] charges $12 to pay online.”

5.    Borrowers and neighborhoods of color, and Limited English Proficient borrowers and communities, are receiving worse outcomes

Unequal Access

All borrowers in need of a loan modification face challenges in securing one, and foreclosure prevention efforts have been less successful than needed across the board. But borrowers, counselors and advocates in the hardest hit neighborhoods continue to feel that the outcomes are worse for certain groups and certain neighborhoods. A recently released report on at-risk neighborhoods that are saturated with underwater homes found that in almost two-thirds of the hardest-hit ZIP codes in the U.S., African-Americans and Latinos account for at least half of the residents.[10]

CRC surveys over the last few years have asked counselors if they see disparities in the outcomes their clients receive. Most of the time the question is asked, most respondents indicate that certain borrowers appear to receive worse outcomes.

This survey response was no different.

  • 54.7%, or 35, counselors reported that borrowers and neighborhoods of color and Limited English Proficient borrowers and communities were receiving worse outcomes.
  • 29.7%, or 19 counselors, were unsure.
  • 15.6%, or 10 counselors, did not feel there were such disparities.
Counselors respond: “[…] borrowers whose primary language is not English have a difficult time communicating with their servicer unless they have a family member who can help them.  Loan modification agreements are in English and sometimes these homeowners do not understand the terms of the proposed modification.  For example, one servicer gave a “principal reduction” but in reality it was just back-ended on the loan with a balloon payment due a few years down the line.  The homeowner accepted the modification and had no idea about the balloon.”

CRC, California counselors and allies have expressed concern for years about the disparate impacts of loan servicing violations and consumer relief distribution on protected classes and hard hit neighborhoods. These concerns were supported by the February 2014 release of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that looked at non-public HAMP data provided by the Treasury Department. The GAO’s analysis of HAMP loan-level data for four large Making Home Affordable (MHA) servicers identified some statistically significant differences in the rate of denials and cancellations of trial modifications and in the potential for re-default between populations protected by fair lending laws and other populations.[11] The GAO cited CRC surveys and housing counselors for noting that LEP borrowers continue to encounter language-related barriers in obtaining access to MHA program benefits. The GAO concluded that without a comprehensive strategy that includes guidance for servicers on engaging with LEP borrowers and monitoring of servicers, Treasury cannot ensure that all potential MHA participants have equal access to program benefits.

On the day after President Obama first announced the HAMP program in February of 2009, CRC urged the President to enhance his housing plan to: “Require loan servicers to report detailed data about loan modifications so that policymakers and the public can track their progress and hold them accountable. The data should reveal which banks are doing loan modifications, what those loan modifications look like, and which racial, ethnic and income groups are getting the modifications.”[12] It is time for regulators and industry to finally provide more transparency around which borrowers and which neighborhoods are getting relief.

 

How Loan Servicing Transfers and Language Access Problems Affect Homeowners

In 2013, after a severe reduction in income, Mr. Moises Valdez was unable to make his monthly payments on his San Diego home, and requested assistance. In June 2013, after he received a notice of default from IndyMac, his servicer, he obtained a loan modification offer, and entered a trial period plan. In September 2013, after meeting all the requirements of the trial period, Mr. Valdez signed and returned the permanent agreement documents to IndyMac, but his loan had been transferred to Ocwen and he was told that he needed to return the agreement to Ocwen.

After sending in his permanent agreement to Ocwen, Mr. Valdez received no statements from September 2013-March 2014. When he asked why this was so, he was told that it was because he was considered in foreclosure. Without any statements, Mr. Valdez was unable to see whether and how his payments were being applied to his mortgage. Additionally, he was not allowed to make payments through his bank, using ACH, so he was forced to make payments over the phone, incurring $48 in fees over these months. In an October 24, 2013 letter, Ocwen acknowledged that Mr. Valdez completed his trial modification plan with Indymac, and that his account had not yet been updated to reflect his modification status, but that his account was past due and being sent to foreclosure. When he called his SPOC, Mr. Valdez was told that Ocwen still had not received the paperwork from Indymac.

Finally, in January 2014, Ocwen refused to accept payments. In February 2014, Ocwen returned Mr. Valdez’ payments, and told him that he would have to pay $17,000 to reinstate his account. In March 2014, Mr. Valdez received a statement that continued to show the pre-modification terms under the IndyMac loan, and he is again attempting to obtain a loan modification. He is frustrated that Ocwen did not honor the loan modification offer that Indymac made.

Additionally, Mr. Valdez faced several language barriers in trying to communicate with Ocwen. Although Mr. Valdez does not speak English fluently, he was sent English-only documents, and was consistently unable to access sufficient Spanish-language services which forced him to converse about complicated banking and lending terms in English. He has worked with translators provided by Ocwen who do not speak Spanish well, or do not speak a dialect he can understand. He has been told that there is no translator available when he calls, and has been left on hold for a half hour while someone searches for a translator. [Summary of declaration of Moises Valdez, full declaration dated April 7, 2014 can be found in the Appendix]

Are Limited English Proficient homeowners and homeowners of color receiving worse loan modification outcomes?

Counselors share their experiences:

  •  “Still not having assistance available to LEP borrowers for their native language, especially Asian languages.”
  • “Servicer (Nation Star) does not provide any translation services other than English.”
  • “We have seen borrowers whose primary language is not English have a difficult time communicating with their servicer unless they have a family member who can help them.  Loan modification agreements are in English and sometimes these homeowners do not understand the terms of the proposed modification.  For example, one servicer gave a “principal reduction” but in reality it was just back-ended on the loan with a balloon payment due a few years down the line.  The homeowner accepted the modification and had no idea about the balloon.”
  • “Servicers still do not have adequate accommodations for Spanish speaking consumers.  Reliance on counseling network to translate for them.”
  • “Servicers’ actions and communications do not make sense to native English speakers, much less LEP communities. And there is less of a sense of obligation to have a knowledgeable SPOC.  It also seems that residents of higher wealth neighborhoods and neighborhoods less diverse have been getting modification offers, unsolicited, while everyone else has to slog through a miserable and poorly run process.
  • “They don’t know who to trust to get help.”
  • “They have these consumers pigeon-holed as most likely to default and have bad attitudes in working with these clients. Skim over facts and do not take enough time to explain what is necessary. Poor rapport.”
  • “The servicers do not have the staff needed to handle clients that speak a different language. In addition, their paperwork is not in their native language. Therefore the clients are not getting the help they need due to the language barrier.”
  • “Lender sends all correspondence to client in English. Many times clients in this groups have to do social security verifications.”
  • “None of my Latino clients have had a fair deal.”
  • “We serve areas with large Hispanic communities and have seen good modification and others that are not so good, but it is balanced.”
  • “Spanish speaking phone calls are constantly dropped. Language accessible SPOCs are rare within mortgage servicers or they lack the language proficiency to accurately share file information with the client/counselor.”
  • “We are seeing that higher income clients are receiving better and faster modifications than low to moderate income clients.”
  • “Banks continuously say they have no duty to send paperwork in Spanish and fail to do so.  (Wells Fargo).”
  • “Translation services deficient or non-existent. Delays in phone conversations when requesting a translator. Clients not understanding procedures / trials for modifications.”
  • “Without proper translation or interpretation, the homeowners would not fully understand the process and the required documents in order to avoid foreclosure.”
  • “LEP borrowers face problems when they try to discuss accounts and errors with servicers.”
  • “Have not seen many trial or permanent modifications lately with above mentioned clientele. The servicer only pushes for short sales.”

6.    Widows and orphans and similarly situated homeowners, are still more vulnerable to foreclosure and need stronger rules, awareness and enforcement

Widows Problem

In our last survey, 80% of responding counselors reported having “widows” and related clients, and large percentages reported that servicers often would not speak to such homeowners, would require them to go through costly and unnecessary hoops, and would leave them more vulnerable to foreclosure.

CRC, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) and allies have advocated[13] to end the problem of surviving family members and other successors in interest facing added barriers to preserving their homeownership after a loved one passes.[14]

In 2013, we were gratified to see CFPB,[15] Fannie Mae,[16] Freddie Mac,[17] and Treasury, through the HAMP program,[18] begin to develop rules and guidelines to better protect widows and similar homeowners. Yet HERA and other offices report a continuing stream of such clients.[19] As the population ages, there is a real possibility we will see an increasing number of widows unnecessarily lose their homes if more is not done now. We asked counselors if the federal rule changes were making a difference for “widows” and similar homeowners.

  • 87%, or 40, counselors said “no, the widows and orphans problem persists, and more needs to be done.”
  • 13%, or 6, counselors said, “Yes, rule changes have fixed the widows and orphans problem.”
  • 20 counselors skipped this question, presumably because they do not have “widows” clients.

Are Banks Following New Guidelines in Helping Family Members to Retain a Family Home?

Ian Kelly currently lives in the Oakland home formerly owned by his father, Gregory Kelly, who passed away in July of 2013. Before he passed, Gregory Kelly placed his home in a trust, naming his son Ian as the beneficiary so that he could take ownership of the family home upon his death. Ian’s father fell behind on the payments as he was battling cancer. Chase, the servicer, offered a workout plan, but after the payments increased, the family could no longer afford the plan. Chase pursued a foreclosure, setting a sale date of December 2013.

Ian Kelly applied for a loan modification review in November 2013, seeking a simultaneous loan modification and assumption of his father’s loan, and submitting extensive documentation. Chase was slow to act and respond throughout the entire process, requesting the same documents multiple times. Additionally, both Mr. Kelly and HERA had difficulty reaching their SPOC, or, indeed, anyone who could provide them with information. Chase ultimately responded that they did not have authorization to talk to Ian Kelly, or his representatives at HERA. After HERA escalated the matter, Chase contacted HERA and informed it that Chase would be conducting a review to see if Mr. Kelly would be able to assume the loan. While waiting to hear back from Chase about his eligibility for a loan modification and assumption, Mr. Kelly received a Notice of Trustee sale scheduled for February 13. Chase proceeded to send confusing letters and forms, but not any information regarding Mr. Kelley’s eligibility for assistance.

Fearing that Chase would foreclose on him before deciding on his loan mod application, Ian Kelly began exploring a short sale. Chase immediately halted review of his loan modification/assumption application, then informed Mr. Kelly that it would not approve a short sale, and rescheduled the sale date for April 14, 2014.  On March 5, Chase advised Mr. Kelly and HERA that he should resubmit his loan modification application and start all over.  Mr. Kelly still does not know when or if Chase will make a decision on his loan modification application and allow him to stay in the home his father left to him.  [Summary of declaration of Ian Kelly, the full declaration dated March 7, 2014 can be found in the Appendix].

Are Servicers Helping Widows or Orphans to Avoid Foreclosure?

Counselors share their experiences:

  • “The servicer keeps insisting that the widow or widower does not live there because the deceased borrower does not live in the property, so they say that it is not owner occupied and that they don’t qualify for the HAMP.”
  • “It’s still a huge problem.”
  • “I haven’t received any help and neither has the surviving spouse.”
  • “The representatives on the phone have no idea of this.”
  • “I still feel there is a problem with this because not all agents of these servicing companies are aware of the changes [and] it therefore causes us to escalate to supervisors etc. so we can finally get the right people that are aware of the changes. Servicers need to do a better job about training their staff.”
  • “Seems information is inconsistent when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are investors.”
  • “Banks do not know of the rules.”
  • “The customer service reps are not updated with the rules, it doesn’t make a difference when you call in and try to speak to a representative. It’s frustrating when you are forced to explain the rules.”
  • “Problem still exist.   They know they are not supposed to do this and say they are taking care of the problem, but it is still a BIG problem.”
  • “Servicer is not aware of the new rule and it seems that servicers are not trained.”
  • “I’ve only had 1 and they had no idea of what I was talking about, kept stating, ‘no, you are wrong.’ Frustrating that most HC [Housing Counselors] [know] more about new rules & standards than financial institutions.”
  • “At least we can point to the GSE guidance as a starting place, and now the CFPB rule to help give us a leg up.  But what’s happening to all of the widows and orphans without representation?  Servicers have not changed their practices and will not unless there is auditing and enforcement.”

Housing counselors and homeowners who are encountering unreasonable obstacles in assuming the mortgage for a recently deceased family member are encouraged to share their experience with Housing and Economic Rights Advocates via email: familyhome@heraca.org

 

Surviving Family Members Face Unreasonable Obstacles

Sheetal Sharma owns a house with her sister Varsha and her mother, Snehlata, in Los Angeles.

The house was owned by her father until he passed away in June 2010.  Although Ms. Sharma provided EMC with a death certificate, a deed transferring title to her, her mother, and her sister, and trust documents which established her and her sister as trustees, EMC refused to provide information about the loan to her. Though EMC accepted mortgage payments made by Ms. Sharma after her father’s death, it refused to speak with her about the loan or tell her how much was due.

EMC ignored the trust documents, and instead insisted it would speak with her only if she produced proof that she was the executor of her father’s estate — even though she had received title to the property through a trust, not probate, and there was no executor and no estate. As EMC refused to give her any information and proceeded towards foreclosure, Ms. Sharma withheld payment and instead deposited the money in a bank account.  A notice of default was filed, with EMC continuing to refuse to talk to Ms. Sharma, despite repeated calls. In September 2010, EMC acknowledged Ms. Sharma and her sister as Co Successor Trustees, but continued to deny them access to any information about the account.

After Chase took over servicing of the loan, it continued to direct correspondence to Ms. Sharma’s deceased father, at one point in 2011 writing her father and asking him to call Chase to finalize a request for a power of attorney. Ultimately, in 2011, Chase allowed Ms. Sharma and her sister to apply for a loan modification, but then denied the modification, claiming they had to assume the loan and bring it current first.  Ms. Sharma and her sister have submitted numerous applications for modification and assumption at Chase’s request since that time without success.  On December 30, 2013, Chase sent Ms. Sharma’s deceased father another letter. [Summary of declaration of Sheetal Sharma, full declaration dated February 17, 2014 can be found in the Appendix]

Recommendations

In order to prevent further unnecessary foreclosures and to start stabilizing California communities, we need:

  1. Enforcement of the rules. The failure to hold servicers accountable for ignoring the rules is the number one complaint of homeowner advocates. Settlement agreements, rules and laws are of little value if servicers refuse to abide by them, and regulators refuse to compel them to do so. Special scrutiny must be applied to SPOC failings to ensure that NMS, HBOR and CFPB servicing rules are being followed and that homeowners are not getting the run around. And state regulators, along with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), should scrutinize the sale of mortgage servicing rights to non-bank servicers to ensure they are honoring loan modifications and prior negotiations, so that homeowners do not have to start over again from square one, at best, or fall through the cracks into foreclosure, at worst.
  2. A solution to the “widows” problem. No one can be happy with the status quo, whereby widows and similar homeowners are losing their homes because they were not listed on the original loan, and the servicers are failing to follow the rules and allow them to take over the loan while receiving a loan modification for which they qualify. CFPB, FHFA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) should aggressively investigate whether servicers are failing to follow successor in interest laws and rules, and take enforcement action where there are violations. The California Legislature should craft and pass a bill to clearly establish that successors and similarly situated homeowners are entitled to protection under the Homeowner Bill of Rights, and have a right to sue servicers who fail to respect those rights. Widows and similar homeowners deserve stronger legal protections, better enforcement of those laws, and access to representation to vindicate their rights.
  3. Funding of legal service lawyers and housing counselors. Homeowners are more likely to keep their homes, access relief and vindicate their rights if working with a nonprofit housing counselor or legal services lawyer. In order to hold violators accountable for breaking the law, we need to build the capacity of legal service offices. Housing counselors often note that while they see clients with problems that the counselors are ultimately able to unravel, they cannot imagine how clients would fare on their own. The foreclosure crisis is not over. Grant awards by the California Attorney General’s office to support housing counseling and legal services have made a difference, but more needs to be done. The California Legislature and Governor took $400 million from the National Mortgage Settlement to backfill the state budget a few years ago during a budget crisis, but now that California is in the black, that funding should be restored to the Attorney General’s office and used for the purposes intended by the NMS agreement, namely, to reduce foreclosures.
  1. Fair lending transparency.
  • The Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should make fair lending transparency a priority in the implementation of recent settlement agreements. Specifically, DOJ and CFPB should require that JPMorgan Chase and Ocwen, respectively, report monthly and publicly on the race, ethnicity, gender, income and census tract of borrowers who seek, and those who obtain, the billions of dollars in principal reduction loan modification relief that are required under those settlement agreements. This will enable the public to know whether all borrowers and all communities have equal access to legal protections and loan modifications. In the GAO report cited earlier, the GAO does not disclose which non-public bank data it analyzed, but does note that Chase and Ocwen were two of the five institutions GAO researchers spoke with about their policies and practices.
  • The CFPB should require the reporting of such data from all lenders and servicers covered by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA). CFPB is currently revising HMDA rules, which were established to help identify discrimination, help local governments direct resources to neighborhoods where they are needed, and help identify whether financial institutions are meeting the housing needs of communities. Promoting fair lending transparency through public reporting of localized loan modification data and linguistic data (in what language was the loan negotiated, in what language were the disclosures and loan documents submitted to the borrower) is perfectly consistent with, and would substantially further the goals and purposes of, HMDA.
  • Local governments should continue to develop Responsible Banking Ordinances and continue to seek such localized data from financial institutions that want to obtain a city or county’s banking businesses. The City and County of San Francisco put out a banking Request for Proposal that included questions relating to applicants’foreclosure filings and loan modifications by race, ethnicity and census tract in San Francisco. To its credit, Bank of America provided this data, and was awarded the City and County’s credit card business contract. The fact that Bank of America provided this data argues for all institutions to provide it, for cities to seek it, and for CFPB and DOJ to require its collection and reporting.
  • The Treasury Department should implement the recommendations in the GAO report and identify which four servicers the GAO analyzed in determining there were significant differences in HAMP outcomes for protected classes of borrowers. The GAO identified five servicers it contacted as part of its study, but did not identify the four servicers whose non-public HAMP data it analyzed. CRC will be filing a FOIA request to ascertain which four institutions were the subject of that analysis. Treasury and/or the GAO should disclose this information. In addition, Treasury should quickly respond to the GAO’s recommendations by issuing guidance and monitoring servicer conduct to ensure all borrowers have equal access to HAMP modification assistance. Further, Treasury should refer to DOJ and/or CFPB any institution where non-public or other data suggest there are potential fair housing or fair lending violations.
  1. Fair lending audits at servicer shops. CRC, New Economy Project, and Reinvestment Partners co-sponsored a resolution before the Bank of America and Wells Fargo shareholders last year, and at this year’s Wells Fargo annual shareholder meeting. The resolution called for Wells Fargo to conduct an independent fair lending audit of its foreclosure and mortgage servicing operations.[20] CRC urges Wells Fargo and all loan servicers to conduct such an audit to ensure they are complying with fair lending laws and principles. Conducting an audit will answer questions about whether foreclosure prevention efforts are fair, and would better protect those institutions. The CRC, NEP and RP resolution “…had been supported by proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. It [ISS] pointed to evidence that the company’s mortgage-servicing and foreclosure practices “expose it to extraordinary risks, including potential losses from claims that its practices continue to harm black and Latino mortgage borrowers disproportionately.””[21]

The foreclosure crisis has not ended. Strong and swift action is needed to protect homeowners and stabilize hard hit communities.

This report was prepared by Kevin Stein and Divya Rao, with helpful edits and assistance from Sean Coffey, Jessica Martinez-Escobar, and Paulina Gonzalez. Helpful comments on early versions of the survey were provided by Maeve Elise Brown with Housing and Economic Rights Advocates. CRC is grateful for the participation of housing counselors and legal service advocates from across the state for completing the survey and sharing their insights based on their experiences in working with homeowners to avoid foreclosure.

CRC is deeply indebted to attorneys at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (www.heraca.org), including Executive Director Maeve Elise Brown, Noah Zinner, Lisa Sitkin, Elizabeth Letcher, Cynthia Singerman, and Joseph Jaramillo, for their work with the homeowners whose declarations are included in this report, their participation and design of this survey, and their insights into this report. We also appreciate the homeowners sharing their experiences. All errors are strictly those of the primary author.

The California Reinvestment Coalition advocates for the right of low-income communities and communities of color to have fair and equal access to banking and other financial services. CRC has a membership of over 300 nonprofit organizations and public agencies across the state.

California Reinvestment Coalition

474 Valencia Street, Suite 230

San Francisco, CA 94103

(415) 864-3980

Visit www.calreinvest.org

Visit CRC’s blog

Follow @Calreinvest

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Cover Photo by Jay Santiago and used per Creative Commons License (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jaysantiago/3977621281)

Appendix

The following homeowners have agreed to publicly share their experiences.  Declarations were prepared with attorneys from Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, and are included in the PDF of this report (Available here)  as well as hyper-linked below.

 

Homeowner Link to Declaration
Gemma and Cornelio Jaochico http://bit.ly/gjaochicodeclaration
Enrique Hurtado http://bit.ly/hurtadodeclaration
Josefina Duenas http://bit.ly/duenasdeclaration
Arminda Garcia http://bit.ly/garciadeclaration
Nicholas and Kimberly Cavanaugh http://bit.ly/cavanaughdeclaration
Carlos Castillo http://bit.ly/castillodeclaration
Emilio and Maria Contreras http://bit.ly/contrerasdeclaration
Teresa Rowland http://bit.ly/rowlanddeclaration
Moises Valdez http://bit.ly/mvaldezdeclaration
Ian Kelly http://bit.ly/ikellydeclaration
Sheetal Sharma http://bit.ly/sharmadeclaration

 

[1] See Peter Dreier, Saqib Bhatti, Rob Call, Alex Schwartz and Gregory Squires, Underwater America: How the So-Called Housing “Recovery” is Bypassing Many American Communities, University of California at Berkeley Institute for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity. The report notes that 1 in 5 mortgages in the U.S. are underwater; that 18 of the top 100 cities with the highest incidence of negative equity are in California; and that in almost two-thirds of the hardest-hit ZIP codes, African-Americans and Latinos account for at least half of the residents. Available at: http://diversity.berkeley.edu/underwater-america-report

[2] Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Lawmaker Urges U.S. Regulators to Scrutinize Mortgage Servicers. New York Times, February 19, 2014, available at: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/lawmaker-urges-u-s-regulators-to-scrutinize-mortgage-servicers/

[3] The Keep Your Home California program, a program of the Hardest Hit Fund, is particularly disappointing in that through 2013, of nearly $2 billion in foreclosure assistance available since late 2010, only $543 million in relief had been made available to California households facing foreclosure. Information available at: http://keepyourhomecalifornia.org/quarterly-reports/

[4] Of the 55,081 servicing complaints received by the National Mortgage Settlement Monitor between July 2013 and December 2013, SPOCs were the most complained about issue, available at  https://www.mortgageoversight.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Executive-Office-Complaints.pdf

[5] Brena Swanson, Fannie Mae: Single point of contact benefits mortgage servicing, HousingWire, May 6, 2014, available at: http://www.housingwire.com/articles/29917-fannie-mae-single-point-of-contact-benefits-mortgage-servicing.

[6] Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Foreclosure-Related Consent Orders Status Report: Observations, Payments, and Foreclosure Prevention Assistance (April 2014), available at: http://www.occ.gov/news-issuances/news-releases/2014/nr-occ-2014-65a.pdf

[7] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, CFPB, State Authorities Order Ocwen to Provide $2 Billion in Relief to Homeowners for Servicing Wrongs, Dec. 19, 2013, available at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/newsroom/cfpb-state-authorities-order-ocwen-to-provide-2-billion-in-relief-to-homeowners-for-servicing-wrongs/

[8] Trey Garrison, Lawsky letter condemns alleged Ocwen conflicts, HousingWire, February 26, 2014, available at http://www.housingwire.com/articles/29117-lawsky-letter-condemns-alleged-ocwen-conflicts

[9] California Monitor, The ‘Complete’ Application Problem: A Solution to Help Homeowners and Banks Work Together, June 19, 2013, available at http://californiamonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/FINAL-June-19-Complete-App-Monitor-Report.pdf

[10] Peter Dreier, Saqib Bhatti, Rob Call, Alex Schwartz and Gregory Squires, Underwater America: How the So-Called Housing “Recovery” is Bypassing Many American Communities, University of California at Berkeley Institute for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity. Available at: http://diversity.berkeley.edu/underwater-america-report

[11] U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-14-117, TROUBLED ASSET RELIEF PROGRAM: More Efforts Needed on Fair Lending Controls and Access for Non-English Speakers in Housing Programs (February 2014). Available at: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-117

[12] Comments from the California Reinvestment Coalition on President Obama’s Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan (February 21, 2009).

[13] See, letter from California Reinvestment Coalition, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, other advocates to OCC Comptroller Curry, Federal Reserve Board Governor Bloom Raskin, and CFPB Director Cordray, December 10, 2012. Available at: http://bit.ly/widowhomeownerletter

[14] Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Mortgage Catch Pushes Widows Into Foreclosure. New York Times, December 1, 2012, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/business/widows-pushed-into-foreclosure-by-mortgage-fine-print.html

[15] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Implementation Guidance for Certain Mortgage Servicing Rules, CFPB Bulletin 2013-12, Oct. 15, 2013, available at http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201310_cfpb_mortgage-servicing_bulletin.pdf

[16] Fannie Mae Lender Letter LL-2013-04 Transfer of Ownership and Mortgage Assumptions, February 27, 2013, available at https://www.fanniemae.com/content/announcement/ll1304.pdf

[17] Freddie Mac Bulletin, Number 2013-3, Mortgage Assumptions and Modifications for Non-Borrowers, February 15, 2013, available at http://www.freddiemac.com/singlefamily/guide/bulletins/pdf/bll1303.pdf

[18] Making Home Affordable Program, Supplemental Directive 13-06, Making Home Affordable Program, Administrative Clarifications, August 30, 2013, available at https://www.hmpadmin.com/portal/programs/docs/hamp_servicer/sd1306.pdf

[19] CRC and HERA have been in touch with nonprofit organizations and law offices throughout the country concerning the “widows” issue, including a recent conversation with Hawaiian Community Assets, a nonprofit group working with one client already named a “successor” under Hawaii law, who is trying without success to assume a Hawaiian Homelands loan in the name of her deceased mother. Hawaiian Community Assets reports that it has confirmed with the FHA National Servicing Center that there are several such FHA 247 loans languishing while surviving family members on Hawaiian Trust Lands grieve, and as the family home moves closer to foreclosure.

[20]  New Economy Project, Reinvestment Partners, and the California Reinvestment Coalition, Wells Fargo Shareholder Resolution, available at: http://bit.ly/wellsresolution.  The shareholder resolution was to “conduct an independent review of the Company’s internal controls to ensure that its mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices do not violate fair housing and fair lending laws, and report its findings and recommendations, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, to shareholders by September 30, 2014” (April 3, 2014).

[21] Saabira Chaudhuri, Mortgage Complaints Overrun Wells Fargo Shareholder Meeting—Update, Wall St. Journal, April 29, 2014.  Available at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304893404579531643398601288

Tenants Rights After a Foreclosure Upheld by California Court of Appeal

LeaseAgreement Photo

Last week, the California Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s earlier decision and instead ruled in favor of Rosario Nativi, and her son Jose Roberto Perez Nativi, two tenants who were evicted when their landlord was foreclosed on.   The mother and son had been renting the garage of a house for several years in Sunnyvale, and then in 2009, the property was foreclosed.  The Nativis did not realize their landlord had stopped paying the mortgage, and had continued dutifully paying their rent.

After the foreclosure, Deutsche Bank became the owner of the property, and hired American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc to service the property.  American Home Servicing, Inc, then hired XL Advisors Inc. dba Advisors Real Estate Group (Advisors), to prepare the property for sale and remove the tenants.

Despite the fact that the Nativis had a lease, representatives of Advisors Real Estate Group removed all of  their belongings and put them outside where they were ruined. Advisors Real Estate Group also called the police when the Nativis tried to regain access to the garage they had been renting.  The tenants sued, and a trial court ruled in favor of Deutsche Bank.  However, the California Court of Appeal reversed that decision on January 23, 2014.

Madeline Howard, who helped initiate the case while at Bay Area Legal Aid and is currently a staff attorney with Western Center on Law & Poverty, explained the significance in a press release: “Because of this decision, tenants like the Nativis, who were locked out of their apartment and left homeless, have recourse in state court.”

The story of a bank becoming the owner of a home after a foreclosure trustee sale is common in California.  Unfortunately, so is the experience of these two tenants who had continued paying their rent and should not have been evicted.  After a trustee sale, some real estate agents will try and get the current tenants out of the property as quickly as possible, offering cash for keys, making illegal threats, or even calling the police.  Tenants may or may not know their rights, and the real estate agents may take advantage of this and try and force them out quickly.

Kent Qian, from the National Housing Law Project, explained the decision is an important victory for tenants under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA), for three reasons:

1) The court ruled that bona fide leases “survive” foreclosure under the PTFA;

2) Tenants in illegally converted garage units are protected under the PTFA; and

3) State law claims can be brought to enforce the PTFA.

As the WCLP press release explains, “the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act requires post-foreclosure owners, including big banks, to step into the shoes of the former landlord when they acquire a rental property.”

To read more about the case, visit:

Western Center on Law and Poverty Press Release: “Court of Appeal Rules that Big Banks Step into Shoes of Foreclosed Landlords When Trying to Evict Tenants” 

Law 360 “Calif. Leases Survive Foreclosures, Appeals Court Says

To read the decision, visit this link: Court Opinion.

If you are a tenant who is losing your housing because your landlord is being foreclosed on, you may want to visit the Tenants Together Action Guide for California Tenants in Foreclosure Situations  or call their Tenant Rights Hotline.

The Western Center on Law and PovertyBay Area Legal AidAlborg, Martin & Buddle LLP, and Jenner and Block represented the Nativis.

An amicus curiae brief, drafted by the National Housing Law Project and AARP Foundation Litigation, was filed on behalf of the National  Housing Law ProjectNational Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the AARP Foundation Litigation, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the California Reinvestment Coalition in support  of the Nativis.