After a few months delay, we rejoin my ongoing and probably fruitless quest to get a mortgage modification under HAMP, the Home Affordable Modification Program, rolled out with much fanfare by President Obama, wherein he promised it would help four million homeowners to reduce their mortgage payments so they could stay in their houses instead of losing them to foreclosure. Number of at-risk homeowners who have received permanent modifications so far? 549,620. Number of homeowners kicked out of the program? 729,109. Number of permanent modifications cancelled? 44,972. Therefore, actual number of permanent modifications? 504,648. Number of at-risk homeowners jerked around by their mortgage servicers, the Treasury Department, and the White House? 100%. And note, these modifications aren’t actually permanent-the way the name implies- they only last for five years. Meanwhile, there were 3.9 million foreclosures filed in 2010- that is one for every 45 households.
You can find the previous installments of this saga here.
I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath since my last report in August(?). At that time, I had apparently fulfilled the last of their ridiculous paperwork requests, and had been told it would take thirty days to get a decision. And sure enough, I got a form letter with a box checked. I don’t remember the exact wording but the gist of it was, “Even if we reduce your payment we don’t think you can afford it.” A phone call confirmed that this was their view- that although I have been paying $2600 every month, on time, and still am, somehow I cannot afford to pay $1200 a month instead. Shorter version? “We jerked you around for close to a year when we never had any intention of modifying your mortgage because we’re really, really hoping you’ll default, which will allow us to tack on all sorts of fees and stuff, so we’ll actually make a lot more money if you default, and besides, it’s not like there’s any penalty for not complying with the HAMP regulations, and we’d only get like a thousand bucks for modifying the mortgage, which is chump change, so either we foreclose and make lots of money, or you start borrowing money from your friends and relatives to keep paying the mortgage, so we still make money, and either way it will cover up the humongous fraud which we, as an industry, have perpetrated on the American people.” Okay, that wasn’t that short. Really short version: “F**k you.”
But while I (and many others) were going through our own personal hells, some interesting things happened. People were starting to fight back. Foreclosure defense lawyers started challenging obviously forged paperwork- and soon even the mainstream media starting covering “robo-signing.” Banks suddenly instituted temporary foreclosure moratoriums in order to “make sure there were no paperwork errors.” All fifty state attorneys general got together to investigate foreclosure fraud. Investigative journalists (the few that are left) began looking not only into foreclosure fraud, but into related areas such as MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System) and the bundling of mortgages into securities- where even more fraud was found. Class action suits were filed in various states. Cities and counties began to realize that MERS had cheated them collectively out of millions of dollars in recording fees. Title insurance companies started refusing to insure title on foreclosed houses that were sold, realizing they would be unable to pay all the claims that would result if word got out that MERS had basically clouded the chain of title on all of the properties sold since the inception of MERS. The investors in the mortgage-backed securities began to discover that not only had they not really bought AAA- rated securities, but that they had in fact bought empty boxes, since no one had bothered to actually transfer the mortgages into the trusts in the ninety day window during which they were required to do so. They began to demand that the banks pay them back.
The banks fought back, of course. They assured everyone the robo-signing and forged documents were just a technicality and they’d have it all fixed in a month. The government, which the banks bought a long time ago, also assured us it was just a minor paperwork problem, “No systemic fraud to see here- move along, move along.” A stealth bill by the name of H.R. 3808, which would have allowed electronic notarization across state lines, essentially legalizing the retroactive document forgery that is already going on, passed the Senate and the House on a voice vote (so no one knows who voted for it) and wound up on Obama’s desk. Luckily, people were paying attention, and a huge email and phone call campaign caused him to veto it. But unless the whole mess unravels completely, no doubt another stealth bill retroactively legalizing the entire fraud that’s been perpetrated on the American public will pass and Obama, ever the puppet of the kleptocracy, will sign it. How is it that thousands of bankers went to jail during the savings and loan crisis and to this day we have not seen a single bankster doing the perp walk? Do you know that we spent five times as much money ($40 million) investigating the relationship between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky than we did investigating the crash that brought down the global economy ($8 million)?
I finally gave up and filed for bankruptcy in early December. Of course, because I have no money, I had to file Chapter 7. If I had more income, I could have filed Chapter 13, which would have wiped out my $150,000 of HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) debt- Chapter 7 leaves that (and the first mortgage) intact. The bankruptcy will discharge $26,000 worth of credit card debt, nearly all of which was for the $17,000 a year I had been paying for health insurance (Blue Cross forces you to put the premiums on a credit card if you want to pay monthly). Now I finally have employer- provided health insurance, which, although considerably cheaper, still has a really large deductible to be paid out of pocket before it kicks in. But health insurance is a whole different column.
I feel no shame about the bankruptcy- it was my only option in a game which is completely rigged. All that stuff we were told about working hard, playing by the rules, paying your debts- it’s bullshit, it’s been bullshit for the last 30 years, and it’s probably always been bullshit. The oligarchs don’t play by the rules- they never have, unless forced to do so.
As for my house, I just keep trying to scrape up the money to pay the damn mortgages, and pray for a freaking miracle.
Jane Powell writes for the Planet when she feels like it and can be reached at email@example.com. If you still have money, perhaps you’d like to order one of her books, available at www.janepowell.org.