AFTER HEARING TROUBLING STORIES, NONPROFITS ASK HUD FOR DATA ABOUT FINANCIAL FREEDOM
Washington, DC – (RealEstateRama) — Earlier today, two nonprofit groups submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about reverse mortgage foreclosures conducted against seniors by Financial Freedom, a reverse mortgage servicer previously owned by Steven Mnuchin, who has been nominated for the United States Treasury Secretary position by President Elect Trump.
Paulina Gonzalez, executive director at the California Reinvestment Coalition, one of the nonprofits filing the FOIA request, explains: “In the past year, we’ve heard many disturbing stories from seniors, their heirs, and their representatives about Financial Freedom using questionable reasons to foreclose. This includes Financial Freedom foreclosing on seniors due to “non-occupancy” when the seniors still clearly live in their homes, and foreclosing on seniors for failure to pay property taxes or insurance without giving seniors a reasonable opportunity to pay. The data we’re requesting should provide a clearer picture of why Financial Freedom was foreclosing at about twice the rate one would expect, given the size of the reverse mortgage market they’re servicing. An earlier FOIA response from HUD indicates that Financial Freedom was responsible for 39% of all federally insured reverse mortgage foreclosures from April 2009 to April 2016 (more than 16,000 foreclosures). But, Financial Freedom only services an estimated 14% of the market, so it appears to be foreclosing at twice the rate one would expect. This FOIA will help better determine if there are practices Financial Freedom is engaging in that are harmful for senior homeowners.”
Lynn Drysdale, an attorney with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc. adds: “Attorneys have shared a number of troubling stories with us about Financial Freedom, and we believe asking for this data is one step to better understanding why seniors are losing their homes unnecessarily.” Drysdale is representing several seniors that Financial Freedom tried to foreclose on, including Ossie Lofton, a 90 years old resident of Florida who Financial Freedom tried to foreclose on over a 27 cents billing error.
Craig Briskin, a partner with Mehri & Skalet, PLLC in Washington, DC, who represented the plaintiffs in Bennett v. Donovan and Plunkett v. Castro (the landmark cases that resulted in HUD developing the new MOE policy help widowed homeowners) comments: “HUD’s MOE policy is intended to help widowed homeowners who never contemplated that a reverse mortgage would result in them being thrown out of their homes if their spouse passed away. We look forward to hearing how many homeowners HUD has approved to use this MOE option.”
The request asks for data on Home Equity Conversion Reverse Mortgage foreclosures, including:
1) The number of reverse mortgage foreclosures in each state by the industry as a whole, and by Financial Freedom since April 2009;
2) The number of reverse mortgage foreclosures by the industry as a whole, and by Financial Freedom, where the stated reasons for foreclosing was “non-occupancy,” or delinquencies in regards to taxes and/or insurance obligations;
3) The number of widows and widowers who have requested to use HUD’s MOE option to remain in their homes after the death of a borrower spouse, for the industry as a whole, and for Financial Freedom, and the number of requests that are pending, have been accepted, and have been denied by HUD for the industry as a whole, and for Financial Freedom.
The two nonprofits have requested that HUD expedite its request, citing the gravity of the situation for senior homeowners who are facing foreclosure, the limited financial means of most affected seniors, the soaring costs of housing in many urban areas, and the lack of affordable housing options for seniors who lose their homes to a reverse mortgage foreclosure.
Additional context: In an earlier FOIA response, HUD revealed that as of April 2016, only 32 surviving spouses had been approved for HUD’s new MOE policy to keep widows and widowers in their homes after the death of a deceased spouse (The policy went into effect in June 2015). During a 2015 hearing, surviving spouses and family members testified about their challenging experiences with Financial Freedom.
Calculations on market size and foreclosures: In its April 15, 2016 FOIA response, HUD indicated: “From April 2009 to date, using data in HERMIT, Financial Freedom and its affiliates foreclosed upon at least16,220 HECMs.” HUD also indicated: “Per HERMIT, there were 41,237 HECM foreclosures completed since April 2009.”
Foreclosure share: 16,220 Financial Freedom HECM foreclosures divided by 41,237 total HECM foreclosures = 39% of all HECM foreclosures.
Market size: According to CIT Group’s Form 10Q, for the quarterly period ending Sept. 30, 2016, CIT reported that Financial Freedom “services approximately 85,000 reverse mortgages, with over $17.6 billion of unpaid principal balance.” A Dec 2015 press release from the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association says: “More than 616,000 senior households are currently using a reverse mortgage to help meet their financial needs.” 85,000 Financial Freedom serviced mortgages / 616,000 total reverse mortgages = 14% of market.