California Attorney General Kamala Harris
She pulls out of multi-state talks along with several other AGs because she believes that California homeowners were not getting the level of relief they deserve.
Since taking office, one of Attorney General Kamala Harris’ priorities has been mortgage fraud. She created the California Attorney General’s Mortgage Fraud Strike Force to protect innocent homeowners and bring to justice those who defraud them. Moreover, her focus is not only to protect homeowners after they have been defrauded, she has also made ‘prevention’ a top priority. The current economic climate and housing crisis have given rise to many scams, particularly in the areas of predatory lending, foreclosure consultants, credit repair companies, debt consolidators and collectors. And AG Harris has placed all of the above on the ‘front burner’ of her law enforcement efforts statewide.
In a major development, AG Harris has severed ties with the proposed 50-state settlement over mortgage/foreclosure fraud. She will no longer take part in the national foreclosure probe of some of the nation’s biggest banks, which are accused of pervasive misconduct in dealing with troubled homeowners.
In an interview, she said, “Last week I announced that California will no longer be a part of the multi-state negotiations with the banks about what would be the remedies and relief for homeowners. I made that decision based on a number of reasons, but ultimately based on the fact that I did not believe that it would bring a fair deal to California homeowners.”
It appeared that AG Harris removed herself from talks by a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies investigating abusive foreclosure practices because the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers were not offering California homeowners relief commensurate to what people in the state had suffered.
She continued, “When we look at the state of affairs in California, what we know is that nationally, in 2010, nearly four million foreclosure filings were reported, and it is estimated that by 2012, the foreclosure crisis will strip neighboring homeowners, so that those who live in the neighborhoods where foreclosures have happened, it will strip them of 1.9 trillion dollars in the value of their homes because of nearby foreclosures. An important point is that this is not just about the persons who are losing their homes, but it’s also for those who are keeping their homes,” she stated.
According to what the Sentinel has learned, the Attorney General recently spent an entire day with representatives of the big banks, giving them every opportunity to come up with a solution that would present California homeowners with relief commensurate to the liability release they wanted. And our sources say that Harris most likely would have signed on to a deal if she had gotten a fair deal for California homeowners; but the banks were unwilling to deliver the level of relief without a sweeping liability release, and AG Harris was unwilling to accommodate them. Subsequently, the negotiations fell apart.
“In California, when you look at the numbers, we have approximately 2.2 million homes that are underwater,” the AG went on, “but most significantly, what we know that last year, there were 550,000 foreclosure filings in California, and nearly one million California children have been affected by the foreclosures.”
AG Harris has sent a letter to Thomas Perrelli of the Justice Department and Iowa AG Tom Miller, who apparently were a part of the multi-state talks with the banks. In the letter, she alluded to her intent to continue investigating mortgage fraud in “my state” and to her work months ago in establishing a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force to investigate all stages of mortgage fraud in the lending process, setting the stage for achieving appropriate accountability for misconduct in the mortgage business.
In addition to the numbers, AG Harris said, “The breakdown further includes that in California, Latinos were 7.9 times more likely than Whites to get a sub-prime adjustable rate mortgage over a prime fixed rate loan. African Americans were 6.7 times more likely, and Asians, 2.1 times more likely. That’s on the sub-prime piece; on the foreclosure piece, Latino and African American homeowners in California are 55 percent of the foreclosures, despite being 36 percent of the mortgages.”
In the above mentioned letter, and in view of the statistics that she just alluded to, the Attorney General stated unequivocally: “I will also push for additional legislation and regulations that enhance transparency and eliminate incentives to disregard borrower’s rights in foreclosure. Many of these reforms have been identified in the multi-state talks, and I hope that in good faith the banks will adopt these reforms immediately.”
In cases where English was a second language, AG Harris explained, “it was difficult for the homeowners to understand the process – of getting the loan, going through the foreclosure process and also navigating the modification process. So people tend to look for other people’s assistance. In this environment, a residual issue is that there are predators who are taking advantage of these homeowners who don’t know what to do or where to go. And those predators, who take on the form of brokers and attorneys – and you probably know I’m prosecuting a couple of law firms right now – who are pretending to help the home owners, and are charging them a fee, and producing nothing in return.”
Finally, a question was asked as to the hardest hit areas and the AG responded, “There was a list of the top ten of places that were hardest hit in the country, California had five of the top ten, and now, we have eight. They are: Modesto, Vallejo/Fairfield, Stockton, Riverside, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Fresno, and Visilia/Porterville.”