Foreclosures Increase As Mortgage Modification Programs Lose Steam

Even with the foreclosure moratoriums that a few of the nation’s biggest banks instituted following the robo-signing scandal, foreclosures for this year will likely top one million. According to a report released yesterday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision — two of the federal bank regulators — foreclosure activities were up significantly in the last quarter:

The number of new foreclosures increased to more than 382,000 — 31.2 percent more than in the previous quarter and 3.7 percent more than a year earlier. The number of foreclosures in process increased to 1.2 million — 4.5 percent more than in the previous quarter and 10.1 percent more than a year earlier. The number of completed foreclosures also increased to nearly 187,000 — 14.7 percent more than in the previous quarter and 57.5 percent more than a year earlier.

A large reason for the jump, according to the report, is that mortgage modifications under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) — the Obama administration’s signature foreclosure prevention effort — have dropped significantly. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said that a main problem driving the foreclosure machine is the “inadequacy of loan modification programs”.

For months, it’s been apparent that HAMP and the administration’s other programs designed to keep borrowers in their homes are going to fall woefully short of their goals. HAMP has processed only about 500,000 permanent loan modifications, out of 1.4 million trial modifications that have been initiated. The redefault rate (the number of borrowers who again fall behind on their mortgages, post-modification) for the program is an ugly 21 percent.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that just $12 billion of the $50 billion dedicated to foreclosure prevention will be spent. The Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP, which also oversees HAMP, estimates that at the current rate HAMP will only benefit 700,000 homeowners, far less than the 3-4 million that the Obama administration said would receive aid. “Absent a dramatic and unexpected increase in HAMP enrollment, many billions of dollars set aside for foreclosure mitigation may well be left unused. As a result, an untold number of borrowers may go without help,” the panel said in a report.

There are still plenty of things that can be done to fix HAMP and ensure that the full resources dedicated to foreclosure prevention actually wind up in the hands of homeowners. Here are some recommendations.