I checked in with Citibank the other day to see how they were doing on their promise to reduce principal on loans for qualified underwater borrowers.
The bank had made that promise as part of a highly touted national settlement of foreclosure fraud charges with state attorneys general back in February.
One thing the bank did not agree to, apparently, was any sense of urgency.
A bank representative told me they had taken a couple of months to get set up and were now in the process of reviewing their borrowers’ files.
He said he thought they would be done by mid-August.
One thing we know for certain: without a tough independent monitor to track what the banks are doing, and not doing, they’ll take their time to produce little help for troubled borrowers.
We know that from the banks’ past poor performance in the administration’s various foreclosure aid programs.
But now state politicians are threatening to grab the cash that banks paid as part of the settlement – money that was supposed to be used to pay monitors to oversee the banks’ compliance with the settlement, along with hiring more housing counselors that could guide homeowners to assistance where it was available and providing legal advice.
At issue is the relatively small amount of cash penalties the banks actually had to turn over in the $25 billion settlement– about $5 billion– with half of that supposed to go to state attorneys general for new foreclosure assistance.
Another $20 billion consists of a dubious and highly complex system of credits given to the banks for taking actions to help homeowners, some of which they were already supposed to be doing.
The national mortgage settlement has always been mainly a PR stunt for the state attorneys general and the Obama administration, to try to make up for their shameful collective failures to protect homeowners from the bankers’ continuing fraud and sloppiness in the foreclosure process, or to hold bankers accountable.
The investigative outfit Pro Publica delved into what they called the “billion-dollar bait and switch,” with states planning to divert $974 million from the settlement to their general funds to cover serious budge deficits arising, ironically, from the Great Recession, which was caused by the bankers’ out of control speculation.
Among those that are looting money that was supposed to be targeted at helping those facing foreclosure are states that have been particularly hard hit by foreclosures, including California and Arizona. Those states got more money from the settlement to compensate for their residents’ victimization by the biggest banks in the foreclosure process.
In California, Governor Jerry Brown now intends to use the state’s $411 million settlement proceeds to help plug a severe budget gap, in particular to pay for existing housing programs, but no new foreclosure assistance initiatives.
You would think diverting the proceeds of a legal settlement would be illegal. But apparently states have the power to raid the settlement funds, having done so in 2003 with fancy financing schemes to get state officials’ hands on funds that were supposed to be targeted for health care costs from a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
State budget problems brought on by the 2008 financial collapse are enormous, but no more compelling than the continuing failure of our elected officials to grapple with the foreclosure crisis. That failure is now underscored by the hollow ring of the state AGs’ promises, and compounded by governors’ betrayal of those promises.