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Homeowners Air Frustrations To Feds

 New America Media, News Report, Aaron Glantz

SAN FRANCISCO – After sitting through two hours of testimony at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, plumber Carlos Moreno can barely contain his anger.

In January, he lost his home in Menlo Park to foreclosure, after his adjustable rate mortgage reset, and his monthly payments increased by more than $1,000 a month.

“It’s all a bunch of baloney,” he said. “While they’re in there talking, 10 more people will lose their home.”

Moreno was among two dozen homeowners and consumer advocates who attended a special Federal Reserve hearing about what information banks should have to publicly disclose under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), a 1975 law designed to combat discrimination in lending.

Advocates say the law is more important than ever given the country’s skyrocketing rate of foreclosures.

“A lot of people are losing their homes and it appears there is a disproportionate effect on communities of color, but we have no information showing whether that’s actually happening,” Kevin Stein of the California Reinvestment Coalition told the panel.

Stein and other consumer advocates say the Fed should begin using the HMDA to require banks and other mortgage lenders to provide more detailed information about a range of mortgage products.

The California Reinvestment Coalition wants lenders to collect and report all loan modification applications and loan modification terms up by the Census tract, race, ethnicity, and gender of the borrower.

The group also wants lenders to disclose the same type of information on reverse mortgages and home equity loans, and they want the statistics for Asian borrowers broken up by nationality to see which Asian ethnic groups are suffering most from the foreclosure crisis.

“We deserve to know who’s getting their loan’s modified and who’s not,” said Yvonne Dunkley, who is trying to get Wachovia to modify the terms of her home in San Francisco’s Ocean View neighborhood.

The Jamaican immigrant lost her job at San Francisco’s Marriot Hotel in 2008 and has been trying change the terms of her loan since she spent down her savings last summer.

“They’re just giving me the run around,” she said, “and most of the people I know are experiencing the same thing.”

Bankers who testified expressed concern about releasing more information, saying if the wrong information were released it might paint an inaccurate picture of how consumers are treated.

Garry Seligson, a senior vice president at Chase Home Lending, told the Fed panel that reporting the race of borrowers on loan modification applications is difficult because many borrowers decline to state it. In such cases, loan officers have typically been required to fill in the box themselves based on the appearance of the borrower and his surname.

“We already have exaggerated claims of discrimination,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to make it worse.”

Officials who presided over the hearing seemed receptive to the consumer advocates' ideas, but expressed concern about violating the privacy of borrowers who would rather keep their financial information secret.

If the consumer groups requests were granted, “somebody could look at this HMDA data and see where a person lived, what their race and age was, what their credit score was, [and] whether they were late on their mortgage payments,” said Sandra Braunstein, director of the Federal Reserve’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs.

“If you were on that list, would you want the whole world to know?” she said.

But consumer groups countered that most of that sensitive information is already available to bankers and for-profit marketers.

“The real question,” said Orson Aguilar of the Greenlining Institute, “is why the private sector has access to this information but the public does not.”

Thursday’s hearing was the second in a series of four gatherings hosted by the Federal Reserve on whether to adopt new rules under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The first one occurred last month in Atlanta, and the next two are scheduled for September in Chicago and Washington, D.C.



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