The subprime mortgage meltdown and the wave of foreclosures that swept across the city and the nation continue to put New Yorkers at risk of losing their homes — despite a federal policy drafted to protect them. The Times reports that in the ten months since President Obama debuted his $75 billion plan to keep as many as four million Americans from being forced out of their homes due to foreclosure, only 31,000 homeowners have been able to negotiate permanent new mortgages. And in the city, where 20,000 homeowners faced foreclosure this year, lenders have offered new or trial mortgages to just 3 percent of homeowners who sought help.
According to the paper, big mortgage companies make life difficult for those facing foreclosure by hitting them with "delay upon delay, and too often steer[ing] homeowners into new mortgages with onerous terms." Some companies have even forced homeowners to waive their right to sue before they issuing a new mortgage, though Obama's program bars such stipulations. The problem might be the fact that mortgage companies make money whether or not they help homeowners avoid foreclosure. The new program pays mortgage companies $1,000 for each loan they modify plus bonuses if homeowners avoid foreclosure, but the companies can also make money by charging late fees and legal fees on overdue mortgage payments.
In November, the Legal Aid Society of New York sued the federal government and the mortgage company Aurora Loan Services on behalf of four Queens homeowners who say they were systematically denied access to the federal rescue program, and that the program does too little to protect homeowners.