So, the mortgage system is in turmoil. Revelations about how banks have done business for years have sent state attorneys general—and the District—scrambling to make sure loan documents were property reviewed and signed before people lost their houses. But it’s not just the banks that paid little attention to the paperwork: Housing counseling services have been severely underresourced throughout the foreclosure avalanche, according to a report out yesterday from the Capital Area Foreclosure Network (the full report is too big to upload, but preliminary results are here).
Here are some numbers: In the Washington region, there were 148,000 mortgages delinquent or in foreclosure at the end of 2009. The situation is worst in Prince Georges County, where more than one out of four mortgages were not current, but pretty bad in the District, where the number was one out of ten. To cope with the crisis, the housing counseling agencies surveyed increased the average number of clients they served from 287 in 2007 to 423 in 2009, despite declining budgets. In total, there are 130 full-time counselors in the region, who reached approximately 20,000 homeowners in 2009—meaning that the vast majority had little assistance as they navigated a maze of forms that we now know banks weren’t watching very closely either.
During the process, counselors report that loan servicers were not very helpful in working with their clients to cure foreclosures. On a scale of one to five of the seriousness of challenges in doing their jobs, counselors ranked “servicers unwilling to make sufficient loan modifications and forbearance agreements to match borrower resources” at 4.7, and “slow or no response from servicer” at 4.55.
Throughout all this, counselors have to not only be financial guides, but also therapists. On the emotional condition of people going through foreclosure counseling, CAFN writes:
“There were concerns that clients dealing with foreclosure thought that there was a stigma attached to seeking mental health services. Several health care providers worried about people in a housing or financial crisis handling the stress and depression; poor stress management and ignoring health issues could lead to negative health outcomes. As one provider put it, ‘[patients] come in for an ear infection but they’re suicidal.’ They often cannot get prescriptions to manage anxiety or depression because they lost their health insurance when they lost their job. The lack of health insurance may mean that they delay seeking treatment for problems of all kinds.”
“Depression, in particular, was a serious concern. One health clinic had a patient facing foreclosure who committed suicide. Because of that, the clinic trained the counselors at a housing counseling organization co-located with the clinic on how to screen for depression for all their foreclosure prevention counseling clients.” 18 percent at one clinic had a “major depressive syndrome.”
It’s nice that banks are trying to fix the documents they screwed up. It would be nicer if they could also help fund organizations that are trying to clean up the mess they left behind.