April 23, 2024

Bank of America to Triple Number of Mortgage Help Centers

The bank, which will announce the plan on Thursday, will focus on regions hit especially hard by the rising tide of homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments. Seven locations will open in California and three in the Detroit area; other centers will be unveiled in St. Louis, Newark, Philadelphia and Tucson, among other cities.

Just over two million homes are in foreclosure nationwide, according to LPS Mortgage Monitor, and another two million borrowers are severely delinquent.

Additional centers may open later this year, the bank said. Counselors fluent in languages including Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian will be available for non-English speaking customers.

“There are some people that prefer a face-to-face experience,” said Rebecca Mairone, national mortgage outreach executive for Bank of America. “They prefer telling their story face to face or need additional information about documents or other counseling. We’re committed to helping distressed customers.”

Most of the counselors in the new centers will be transferred from other areas of the mortgage business, like sales and originations, which have slowed with the decline in mortgage demand.

Bank of America officials said their internal foreclosure procedures had changed in the wake of public criticism, and that the centers were being opened partly in response to customer feedback.

Despite the plans for the new centers, local housing advocates said they remained skeptical of the bank’s willingness to reduce loan balances or otherwise ease the terms of existing mortgages.

Bank of America, the nation’s largest mortgage servicer, and other major banks are overhauling their approach to dealing with distressed homeowners in response to pressure from regulators.

After a public uproar began last fall over problems in the foreclosure process, regulators in Washington and all 50 state attorneys general began a broad inquiry into servicing procedures. In particular, they looked at issues like frequently lost material and at cases in which bank officials reviewed thousands of documents a month with only a cursory glance, a practice known as robo-signing.

Fourteen servicers signed consent orders last month with federal regulators. The orders restrict foreclosure-related fees, and mandate servicers to provide a single point of contact for homeowners who are behind on their payments and an appeals process for borrowers whose first request for a loan modification was turned down.

Separate negotiations are still under way between the major servicers and the state attorneys general, who are pressing the banks to set aside billions to help distressed homeowners modify their mortgages.

Since January 2009, Bank of America has doubled the number of employees who deal with troubled borrowers, to 28,000, but critics say the process still leaves much to be desired.

“If they don’t change the way they interpret the rules for making modifications, the centers won’t make that much of a difference,” said Avis Holmes, executive director of the Detroit Non-Profit Housing Corporation, which provides counseling to homeowners in danger of default. “It seems like they’re more interested in ways not to fully implement modifications.”

Ms. Mairone said that Detroit would soon have three centers to help troubled borrowers, but said “many of these customers will not be able to get modifications.” Instead, she said, the local centers can ease the process, providing other options like allowing customers to sell their homes and pay back as much as they can without a foreclosure, a process known as a short sale.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8dcb116350ecce8ae16061ad83e39be5

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