US to borrowers: Look at mortgage-review program

Dorchester residents whose primary home was in a foreclosure process between 2009 and 2010 may be eligible for a free independent review.

The Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, and federal bank regulators who are overseeing the independent review are seeking to promote the program as a Dec. 31 deadline looms for potential applicants. The program is part of an order issued by financial regulators to 14 banks that requires them to improve loan modification and foreclosure services.

US Comptroller Thomas Curry, who was in Dorchester on Monday for the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance’s annual meeting, asked for the homeownership education group’s help in raising awareness of the problem. “Time is short,” he said, and “borrowers must send in their requests for review by the end of the year.”

“It’s a unique opportunity for homeowners to request a review if they feel they were financially harmed because of errors made by the servicer,” Ana Patricia Munoz, a senior policy analyst at Federal Reserve Bank of Boston told the Reporter.

According to the Federal Reserve, the following meet the definition of causing financial harm: The mortgage balance at the time of the foreclosure action was more than the amount actually owed; the borrower met the modification agreement requirements, but was foreclosed on anyway; the borrower was foreclosed while under bankruptcy protection; the borrower submitted modification documents on time and was waiting for a decision when the foreclosure sale occurred; and the borrower was incorrectly charged with fees or mortgage payments.

Mortgage servicers under the order include Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, Countrywide, Metlife Bank, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Mortgage, Washington Mutual, and Wells Fargo, among others.

An independent consultant will determine if a homeowner was harmed, and can potentially provide compensation ranging from $5,000 to $125,000 plus equity, or return the house to the owner. Munoz said everything will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

The national response rate for the foreclosure review program has remained low – at about 5 percent despite 4.5 million people having been identified as possible candidates. In Suffolk County, 5,450 people are likely to be eligible, as of September. About 341 people, or 6 percent, have requested a review, according to Munoz. “There are still thousands of people who could benefit from this,” she added.

Munoz said her organization has conducted workshops with counseling organizations and community organizers, and also put together a YouTube video in English and Spanish. “It does sound too good to be true but it is true,” she said. “It is a unique opportunity.”

The deadline for the application has been extended several times due to the low response rate and now stands at Dec. 31. Curry said it was “premature” to say whether there would be another extension, that regulators have to see how effective the current outreach effort is.

More information is available at IndependentForeclosureReview.com.