WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday offered the first of what will be monthly reports on mortgage modifications, using a "name and shame" approach that found that from February through July, lenders started only 9 percent of eligible homeowners on trial mortgage modifications.
The first report under the Home Affordable Modification Program, involving more than 30 lenders that together collect payments on 85 percent of American mortgages, found an especially dismal performance by two major national banks — Bank of America and Wells Fargo — that received $45 billion and $25 billion, respectively, in taxpayers' bailout money.
The report is likely to produce more pressure on these two institutions, because the rescue money spent on them was expected to encourage greater lending and more loan modifications.
In a conference call with reporters, Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr said that servicers who collect monthly mortgage payments on behalf of banks and investors that hold pools of mortgages had modified about 230,000 distressed mortgages since mid-February. The administration wants large mortgage servicers to modify 500,000 troubled home loans by Nov. 1.
"I think we've been disappointed . . . about their performance in helping people in a timely fashion with the respect they deserve under difficult circumstances," Barr said.
The Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy organization in Durham, N.C., took an even tougher view of lenders.
"The report card issued by the Treasury Department today shows that financial companies deserve a failing grade in their voluntary efforts to modify home loans to help restore the U.S. economy," it said in a statement. "The results reveal that only 15 of every 100 families who are eligible for a modification of their mortgage have been offered one."
There are numerous indications that the list of eligible homeowners will grow.
"In June of this year alone, there were 254,000 foreclosure starts, which is more than the total number of modifications made to date under the current program," the center said, calling on Congress to allow bankruptcy judges to rework mortgages. "For over three years, lenders have insisted they can handle this crisis on their own, but today's report shows that the time for voluntary action is over."
Most of the homeowners who're falling behind on their mortgage payments are thought to have sub-prime or Alt-A mortgages, those given to weaker borrowers during the housing boom, which was fueled in part by loosened lending standards.
Publishing the first of its monthly reports on the performances of individual lenders and servicers, the Treasury Department found that Bank of America serviced 796,467 mortgages that were thought to be at least 60 days late on payments and potentially eligible for lower monthly rates.
The bank, however, extended modification offers to just 99,649 homeowners, or about 13 percent of those eligible, the Treasury report said, and it began trial loan modifications with only about 4 percent, or 27,985 borrowers.
Bank of America said it was doing plenty outside of the administration's Making Home Affordable effort.
"Importantly, this report is not intended to capture each servicer's progress outside of MHA in stemming the tide of foreclosures," Barbara Desoer, the president of Bank of America Home Loans, said in a statement. "In the first half of 2009, Bank of America completed 150,000 modifications through our own programs as we ramped up to make MHA operational. These 150,000 homeowners were at serious risk of foreclosure, but today remain in their homes with an affordable mortgage payment."