Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock on Wednesday announced a comprehensive foreclosure prevention program to help Montanans who are struggling with mortgage payments and are at imminent risk of losing their homes. Bullock was joined at a press conference in Bozeman City Hall by Mayor Sean Becker and Maureen Rude, director of operations for NeighborWorks Montana.
The program combines a new effort within his office with expanded foreclosure prevention resources in Montana to create a seamless and targeted program to address the burden that struggling homeowners face. Homeowners will be able to contact either the Attorney General’s Office or local housing counselors, and the department and local resources will work together to best meet the needs of the struggling homeowner.
“Wall Street and the so-called ‘too big to fail’ banks have a lot to answer for. Their greed and their rampant abuse of our financial system have hurt millions of people – including some homeowners here in Gallatin County and throughout Montana,” Bullock said. “This foreclosure prevention program will directly assist people who are struggling with their mortgage and help improve our economy by keeping deserving Montanans in their own homes.”
Bullock’s plan will not only make the process of finding help easier for homeowners who are behind on their mortgages. It will also provide them with a one-stop online resource – called “Keep My Montana Home” – for everything they need to know about foreclosure and how they can get assistance in fighting it. A quick call or email to the Attorney General’s Office or to a local housing counselor is all it takes to activate the process. The program will coordinate to make sure that the homeowner is referred to the most appropriate resource to review their case.
The program is funded by the $5.8 million Montana received to address homeowner issues as part of the landmark national settlement with the largest mortgage servicers in the United States over foreclosure abuses and fraud. Over a three-year period, the plan directs $3 million to NeighborWorks, a Montana Board of Housing program that will work with the Office of Consumer Protection and service providers across the state to provide foreclosure prevention and one-on-one housing counseling services. With those dollars, more housing counselors will be hired, particularly in areas hit hardest by the crisis, to make sure that everyone who is eligible to receive a loan modification or other direct assistance under the national settlement gets the relief they deserve.
“I’m really proud that our state and our Attorney General’s Office had the wisdom to use this money to help Montanans who were impacted by the foreclosure crisis, by providing housing counseling and legal assistance,” Rude said.
An additional $863,000 will go to Montana Legal Services Association, to provide free advice and representation to some homeowners experiencing legal problems in the foreclosure process. The plan also deposits the penalty portion of the settlement, $450,000, into the state general fund. The balance of the funds will be retained for ongoing enforcement activities by the Attorney General’s Office to prevent and prosecute financial fraud or deceptive practices, monitoring of the settlement and working with the lenders to ensure that Montanans are getting the relief they deserve, public outreach and training.
“By directing the bulk of the settlement funds to additional, on-the-ground housing counselors across Montana, we will be able to reach as many struggling homeowners as possible, as quickly as possible, so we can help them keep their homes,” Bullock said.
The Attorney General’s Office has been active in helping homeowners facing foreclosures since the peak of the crisis hit the Treasure State in 2010 – Montanans like Tiana Sanders-Failor, of Lincoln, who got the runaround from her bank until it was almost too late.
“I’ve seen too many people giving up along the way and losing their homes,” Sanders-Failor said. “We got to the point where our house was supposed to be put up for auction. It was only through the Attorney General’s Office that we were able to stop the foreclosure sale at the last moment. If it weren’t for them, we would be out of our house even though we were able to pay.”
The joint federal-state settlement stemmed from a national investigation of the foreclosure practices of five of the country’s largest banks. The investigation began with the discovery that these institutions routinely violated state and federal laws by signing foreclosure documents outside the presence of a notary public – a practice referred to as “robo-signing” – and without knowing if the facts contained in the documents were even correct. The banks also engaged in a number of other abusive foreclosure practices.
Under the settlement, which was joined by 49 state attorneys general, the five banks – Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Ally/GMAC – agreed to a $25 billion package of benefits for homeowners and payments to the states. The settlement also provides benefits to eligible borrowers whose loans were owned by the settling banks, as well as to many of the borrowers whose loans they serviced. It also provides for modest payments to those who were foreclosed upon from 2008-2011, through a program that will be implemented and administered nationally.
The program announced today will work to make sure that eligible Montana homeowners facing foreclosure receive the assistance offered by the multistate agreement. With dedicated resources in the Attorney General’s Office and expanded housing counseling services available throughout Montana, Bullock hopes to assist more homeowners like Robert B. Walker of Livingston.
“The first place you need to contact if you need help is the Attorney General’s Office,” said Walker, who was also helped through the efforts of the Office of Consumer Protection after months of struggling with his bank. “They are prompt and thorough, and without their help, I would not have achieved what I did with my mortgage company. Their diplomatic help solved things for me.”
For more information about the program or to access housing counseling services near you, go to the Attorney General’s “Keep My Montana Home” website at www.consumerprotection.mt.gov or call (406) 444-2556 or (800) 481-6896.