by Hugh McQuaid
Sep 6, 2011 7:00am
Statistics prepared by the Judicial Branch show the number of home foreclosures over the past year in Connecticut to be less than they were the year before the recession hit. However, a foreclosure lawyer said the drop is artificial.
On the surface, the statistics are impressive. Between 2010 and 2011 banks filed 15,619 foreclosures. That’s down substantially from a high the year before of 26,728. It’s also less than 15,773, the number of foreclosures filed between 2006 and 2007, the year before the recession began.
But according to Jeff Gentes, a foreclosure attorney at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, the numbers won’t really translate to a dramatic drop in the number of people losing their homes. The number of families delinquent on their mortgages has not dropped off significantly, so the drop in foreclosures filed only reflects lenders delaying action on filing, he said.
“It’s not as if the banks have suddenly decided they don’t want people’s houses,” he said.
Gentes said some banks suspended foreclosure activity last year after the state Judicial Branch added an additional affidavit it required lenders to file before moving forward with a foreclosure.
A few weeks after the state changed the process, the “Robo-signing” scandal came to light. Last fall it was discovered that major lenders like Ally Financial, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America had been expediting foreclosures by not following laws governing the process.
Employees who were not familiar with cases were signing off on affidavits claiming they were, sometimes without even reading them. Other times they were signing names that weren’t theirs.
Given the controversy over the fraudulent filings, some banks halted proceedings on foreclosures to review their policies. Gentes said to his knowledge neither JP Morgan Chase nor Bank of America have filed a foreclosure in Connecticut since.
It goes a long way toward explaining the sudden drop in foreclosures filed. The two banks make up about 40 percent of the state’s foreclosure market, he said. And according to the statistics the number of foreclosures filed dropped about 42 percent over the last year.
The delay leaves affected homeowners in an uncertain sort of limbo, he said. The files haven’t gone away, they’re just piled up on a desk somewhere, he said. So for homeowners it’s not that they won’t have their houses foreclosed on, they just don’t know when, he said.
“The files are just waiting to be served on people,” he said.
Gentes said he expects at some point the banks will get around to resuming foreclosures at a rate consistent with how they were operating before the controversy.
“Any notion that somehow we’re past this crisis, that things have turned around based on these statistics would be completely wrong,” he said.
Struggling homeowners will continue to need all the help they can get, he said. That is why it was important the the General Assembly passed a bill that extended the foreclosure mediation program into 2014, he said.
The program pairs lenders and homeowners with a neutral third-party mediator who helps them reach a negotiated agreement which sometimes keeps the borrower in the home. It is regarded as a successful program.
Since it began in 2008, mediation has kept homeowners in their homes in 65 percent of the cases that enrolled, according to Judicial Branch statistics.
The legislature also passed a bill last session which protects families enrolled in mediation from foreclosure while in the program.
In March Gentes said that homeowners of around 9,500 properties have completed the program. But around 1,500 properties have been foreclosed on despite their owners being enrolled in the program, he said.
The bill, which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law in July, offers homeowners in the program some protection from foreclosure litigation in court until they have completed mediation.
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