4,000 Mass. homeowners benefit from mortgage settlement
Nearly 4,000 Massachusetts borrowers have received some kind of housing-debt relief this year as part of a national mortgage settlement involving five major lenders, with each homeowner getting an average of $67,457 in assistance, according to federal report released Monday.
Massachusetts borrowers received $266 million of the more than $21.92 billion disbursed nationally as part of a settlement over improper foreclosure proceedings, the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight said in its preliminary assessment of the program.
Across the United States, about 278,000 borrowers received an average of $78,730 through various forms of assistance, including mortgage loan modifications, balance writedowns, and short sales.
The report comes nine months after a multistate group of attorneys general came to a $25 billion accord with the country’s top lenders to settle allegations about so-called robosigning: claims that mortgage company employees routinely signed foreclosure documents without reading or properly reviewing the paperwork. The lenders include Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citibank, and Ally Financial Inc., owner of GMAC Mortgage.
Joseph A. Smith Jr., monitor of the national mortgage settlement, said the numbers submitted to him by banks look promising, but that his office must confirm the data over the next few months.
“The relief the banks have reported is encouraging,’’ he said.
But Smith added that some of the financial aid that lenders offer borrowers does not count toward the national accord, so it is too soon to determine how close the banks are to meeting the required $25 billion in mortgage assistance.
In Massachusetts, 2,001 homeowners received $123 million in principal reductions between March 1 and Sept. 30, the report said. Another 1,115 borrowers received $108 million in help selling their properties in a short sale, a process through which a home is sold for less than the size of the mortgage, with a lender’s consent.
Brad Puffer, a spokesman for state Attorney General Martha Coakley, said Massachusetts homeowners are receiving a higher percentage of assistance through loan modifications and principal reduction than borrowers in other states. He said the average amount of relief for borrowers in the state appears to be smaller than nationally because the overall numbers are skewed by a high volume of short sales in Florida and California.
Coakley’s office is helping local borrowers through its HomeCorps program, which was established with settlement funds.
“Struggling homeowners in Massachusetts are beginning to receive concrete benefits from the national settlement, and we intend to keep pushing for more progress,’’ Coakley said.
The federal report comes as foreclosures in Massachusetts are on the rise. There were 6,486 homes seized by lenders between January and September, a 3.5 percent increase compared with 2011, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. Petitions, the first step toward a property seizure, increased to 13,876 during the first three quarters of the year, 47.3 percent more than during that period in 2011.
Lewis Finfer, director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a Boston nonprofit, said the report indicates that a small number of US homeowners have benefited from the settlement with lenders. But Finfer warned that the country’s foreclosure crisis will be hard to quell as long as mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continue to oppose principal reduction.
“The good news is that some homeowners are getting relief, but the bad news is a much greater number are not able to get help,” he said.
Grace Ross, coordinator of the nonprofit Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, said too much of the settlement money is still going toward short sales. “They are meeting obligations by things that are least helpful of homeowners,’’ she said of lenders.Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @jbmckim.