Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry on Thursday urged eligible borrowers to sign up for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's (OCC) foreclosure-review process, and suggested that homeowners who didn't like the results would still be able to sue their mortgage servicers later.The OCC has been at odds with the Federal Reserve Board over whether borrowers should be required to waive their legal rights as a condition of compensation under the independent foreclosure reviews being conducted by the 14 largest servicers.
Curry waded into the controversy on Thursday, in a 20-minute speech to housing counselors and bankers attending a conference at the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles.
"I want people to know that this process is free to borrowers who ask for a file review and that they give up none of their rights in asking for the independent review of their case," he said in prepared remarks. "If they don't like the results, they don't have to take it and they can choose to pursue whatever other legal remedies may be available. But if they believe they truly did suffer financial harm as a result of the flawed mortgage servicing practices, I encourage them to explore this process."
The OCC has been open to allowing servicers to require that borrowers waive their rights to other legal remedies, as a condition of receiving compensation in the review process. The Fed, which regulates four of the 14 largest servicers, has not been in favor of offering such waivers.
The review process has been stymied by a low response rate. Just 3% of the roughly 4.3 million eligible borrowers have so far responded to the OCC's outreach efforts, agency spokesman Bryan Hubbard said on Thursday.
To that end, Curry is making a big push to get housing counselors to spread the word.
"We really need you people on the ground to make sure that the people you deal with get information about the program and are encouraged to follow through with it," Curry told the audience.
"My request is simply this: help spread the word, however you can, to encourage borrowers to evaluate their experiences, and if they believe they suffered specific financial harm, to take advantage of the process," Curry said.
The OCC has extended the deadline for the review process to July 13. It plans later this month to launch an aggressive public service announcement campaign to get more borrowers to sign up, Curry said.
Mortgage servicers have long maintained that very few borrowers were actually harmed by the robo-signing scandal. The OCC's review process is expected to shed more light on how many borrowers who were in the process of foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 were actually harmed.
Servicers and the independent consultants they have hired to conduct the reviews are still working on a framework for how to compensate borrowers.
Fixing the problems with mortgage servicers will be a "long and expensive process," Curry said, and will require "a great deal of work by regulators" to ensure that it is done correctly."
"The critical deficiencies we found in bank and thrift servicer practices constituted unsafe and unsound banking practices, and also resulted in violations of applicable federal and state laws and requirements," he said.
Minority communities "have taken a toll from the bursting of the housing bubble" and the financial crisis and recession, Curry said. Federal Reserve data shows that the wealth gap between black and Hispanic households compared with white households is the highest since the government started publishing such data more than 25 years ago.
Curry has been chairman of NeighborWorks America, a nonprofit housing group, for six years. He added on Thursday that the difficult economy and weak employment may prevent many people from taking advantage of low interest rates and affordable housing.