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Bank of America Ordered to Pay Black Job Applicants $2.2 Million


A United States Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge has ordered Bank of America to pay $2.2 million in back wages to more than 1,100 African Americans who were rejected for jobs. The ruling ends a nearly two-decades old legal dispute.

Judge Linda S. Chapman ordered the Charlotte-based megabank to pay $964,033 to 1,034 applicants who were rejected for jobs in 1993. Bank officials also were ordered to pay approximately $1.3 million to individuals who were rejected for jobs between 2002 and 2008.

Judge Chapman issued her ruling after determining that bank officials applied unfair and inconsistent selection criteria resulting in the rejection of African Americans for jobs as tellers, entry-level clerical and administrative positions.

Bank officials also repeatedly challenged the authority of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency regulates of BofA, a national bank based in Charlotte, N.C.

Read the rest at The NorthStar News

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AG: $25 Billion Mortgage Settlement Finalized


HARTFORD – Attorney General George Jepsen on Tuesday said Connecticut consumers will soon benefit from direct mortgage relief and new mortgage servicing standards under terms of the $25 billion national settlement agreement with the five largest mortgage servicers.

Consent judgments with Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Company, Citigroup Inc., and Ally Financial Inc (formerly GMAC), were approved last week and entered Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, finalizing the national settlement announced Feb. 9.

The state’s share of the settlement is $190 million.

•             Connecticut borrowers will receive an estimated $119 million in benefits from loan modifications and other direct relief.

•             The estimated 7,500 Connecticut borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure from January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2011 and suffered servicing abuse qualify for an estimated $1,500 cash payment.

•             The value of refinanced loans to Connecticut’s underwater borrowers would be an estimated $36 million.

•             The state will receive a direct payment estimated at $27 million to help pay for local foreclosure prevention programs, such as the Connecticut Department of Banking’s foreclosure prevention hotline, HUD-approved housing counselors, the Judicial Branch’s foreclosure mediation program, nonprofit legal aid groups that help homeowners facing foreclosure, and loan modification programs supported by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

Some Connecticut borrowers have received principal reduction loan modification offers from the servicers, Jepsen said. While many more are expected to benefit, he cautioned that not everyone will qualify. The mortgage servicers are required to complete 75 percent of their consumer relief obligations within two years and 100 percent within three years.

Jepsen urged borrowers whose loans are owned by the five servicers, to contact them directly at the following numbers for more information about the assistance programs and whether they qualify for help: Bank of America: 1-877-488-7814; Citigroup: 1-866-272-4749; Chase: 1-866-372-6901; Ally/GMAC: 1-800-766-4622; Wells Fargo: 1-800-288-3212.

In addition, the five mortgage servicers are subject to extensive new servicing standards, which take effect over the next two to six months. These new standards will stop many past foreclosure abuses, such as robo-signing, improper documentation and lost paperwork. They will also require strict oversight of foreclosure processing, including by third-party vendors; restrict banks from foreclosing while the homeowner is being considered for a loan modification and make foreclosure a last resort, by requiring servicers to evaluate homeowners for other loan mitigation options first.

The new standards also establish procedures and timelines for reviewing loan modification applications, and give homeowners the right to appeal denials. They also require the servicers to provide a single point of contact for borrowers seeking information about their loans and adequate staff to handle calls.

Independent settlement monitor Joseph A. Smith, Jr. will oversee the terms of the agreement and prepare quarterly compliance reviews. Jepsen will serve on the monitoring committee of state attorneys general, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will work with the monitor to ensure the servicers fulfill their obligations under the settlement.

While only borrowers whose loans are owned by one of the five servicers are eligible for modifications under the settlement, Jepsen urged anyone who has fallen behind on their mortgage loan or who is anticipating difficulty making their payments to contact the Connecticut Department of Banking Foreclosure Assistance Hotline at 1-877-472-8313 for foreclosure-related and general loan-modification questions.

Assistant Attorneys General Joseph Chambers and Matthew Budzik, head of the finance department, are assisting the Attorney General in this effort.

For more information, see www.NationalForeclosureSettlement.comwww.MortgageOversight.comwww.ct.gov/ag;www.HUD.gov

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Lawsuits Claim Forgery, Fraud In Foreclosures


Amsterdam News, News Report, Cyril Josh Barker.

Reports indicate that several lawsuits have been filed against big banks due to the mishandling of important lending documents. The mishap has resulted in the stopping of foreclosure proceedings and reviewing past evictions in 23 states.

Banks that are being targeted in the lawsuits include Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Ally Financial Inc. and GMAC Mortgage because of document verification issues, particularly false signatures and documents. Tens of thousands of homeowners are being affected by the flaw.

Among the most common problem involves documents that were not verified before foreclosures could legally proceed. Several documents were signed by employees who said they didn’t verify important information. There are also questions about the notarization of documents.

Issues of forgery are also coming into play, as many documents contain different signatures in different versions.

Massachusetts, Illinois, Iowa and Florida are among the states that have stopped foreclosure proceedings. In Florida, a judge dismissed 61 foreclosure cases.

Data from RealtyTrac Inc. indicates that over 95,300 homes were taken by lenders in the country in August, along with lenders issuing over 338,000 foreclosure filings to homeowners. In a Princeton University study by Douglas Massey and Jacob Rugh, Blacks have suffered the most from foreclosures.

In mostly Black neighborhoods in America, there was an increase in foreclosures. Blacks were more likely to be given subprime loans with high interest rates and hidden fees. The study also revealed that worse deals were given to Blacks with similar credit scores as whites.

Blacks were found to be as likely as whites to receive predatory treatment among lenders that did not go bankrupt.

According to Brooklyn Congressman Ed Towns, New York is not one of the states that has stopped foreclosure proceedings because of the mishap. Several state attorney generals have asked lenders to freeze foreclosure proceedings in their states. Towns said New York will take the steps to do the same if necessary.

“We are going to look at this issue from a commitment stand point,” the congressman told the AmNews. “I’m not sure there is going to be a hearing, but there is a lot of interest. All these mistakes have been made by losing paperwork.”

Towns said that people have called his office in reference to the problem going on in other states, saying that the banks’ mistakes have put the economy into a deeper financial hole that is harder to dig out of.

“There’s no doubt it has made it worse,” he said. “I give credit to banks for correcting this. I can’t help thinking about those who have been foreclosed on. What recourse do they have? I’m hoping that others will follow through as we monitor and look at this.”


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Losing Ground: Foreclosure Rate Higher Among Minority Homeowners


This story was funded in part by the International Center for Journalists.

By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — For 15 years, Yassah Wynne worked two jobs and paid a $1, 200 mortgage on her three-bedroom Simsbury home. Her husband’s income helped with household expenses that come from raising two children and a cat named Cleo.

Wynne divorced her husband in 2002 but could still afford her mortgage on her 50-hour, six-day work schedule as a medical secretary and as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Then things changed. Bank of America Home Loans absorbed Countrywide Financial last April, and soon afterward she noticed monthly increases by $50, then, $100 until it reached $1, 600. This change on a fixed interest $171, 000 loan, she thought, was odd. So she sought answers. Bank representatives mentioned something about tax increases, she said. For a while, she dipped into her savings until it overwhelmed her.

“I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t make those payments,” she said after exiting Hartford Superior Court. “I don’t even go see a movie. I’m always working.”

The 40-year-old, African-American, single parent of two panicked. She needed a solution.

LONG LINES, MORE MINORITIES

On any given morning, distressed homeowners across Connecticut file into Hartford Superior Court on Washington Street, anxiously waiting to meet with their banks. For several months, Hartford home owner Ramon Gutierrez, 48, noticed a disturbing pattern. Most of the distressed owners were African American and Latino.

“A year ago, I saw all kinds of people coming in, lots of white people, a few blacks and Hispanics. But as my mediation drags on, I see more people of color, very few Asians, fewer whites,” Gutierrez said. “And I’m starting to wonder about that.”

Gutierrez’s observation is aligned with a national trend and is supported by a recent study by a national agency that serves as an advocate for homeowners, the Center for Responsible Lending.

Yassah Wynne stands outside her home.

According to the study, the number of African American and Latino borrowers disproportionately bore the burden of foreclosures. Since the recession began in 2006, nearly 8 percent of both African American and Latino borrowers lost their homes to foreclosures, compared with 4.5 percent of white borrowers. And as the crisis continues across the country, it will be particularly devastating to more African American and Latino families.

The Center also found a separate and deeply troubling issue: minority communities continue to experience significantly higher foreclosures rates than whites, regardless of their income and educational level.

The news came as no surprise to Hartford City Councilman Luis Cotto.

“I’m not surprised at a pathetic picture the report describes, especially about Latinos,” Cotto said. Latinos are predisposed to be in this situation because they’re a newer population and not as [financially] literate.”

Hartford is Connecticut’s capital city and 41 percent of its residents are Latinos, while 38 percent are African American, which includes West Indians. And almost 20 percent are foreign born, according to the 2006 U.S. Census estimate. The city comprises most of the targeted population for subprime mortgages. The impact of the housing crisis in this city is especially devastating because owner-occupied housing is only 23 percent of the city’s housing stock.

The 17-square-mile city has mostly churches, other nonprofit organizations and corporate offices, which contribute less to the overall tax base. In one month alone, the city’s home foreclosure rate jumped 74 percent.  Yet, there’s very little discussion on a municipal level about staving off foreclosure in a city with an already low tax base.

Cotto said there is no action with the housing committee, but the city should have some kind of dialogue on this matter.

“It would behoove the municipal to hold on to that 23 percent,” he said.

STATE STEPS IN, STEMS FORECLOSURE CRISIS

On a state level, there have been many discussions, led by the General Assembly’s Housing Committee, about how to stem the housing crisis. And the state just celebrated what it deemed a success and an example for others to follow: court-mandated mediation before the final act of foreclosure. In this judicial program, lenders are forced to follow federal guidelines in processing the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP). More than 7,100 cases have completed the mediation process through June 2010.

Seventy-six percent of those cases have reached agreement, which could include a quit sale. Overall, 62 percent – more than 4, 400 cases – remain in their homes, according to state officials.

In July, Gov. Jodi Rell staged a ceremony with Laura Wilson, a single, white suburban mother, in front of her Windsor home to celebrate the success of the mediation program and by signing a bill, House Bill 5270, An Act Concerning Foreclosure Mediation, that extends the bill until 2012. State officials see that as a viable measure to stem the foreclosure rate across the state, not just in the suburbs.

However, Wilson’s process “went relatively smoothly” compared to others who are still in mediation. That’s why she was a “feel good” success story for the cameras.

Indeed, Wilson’s experience with her bank went well. But Wynne’s experience with her bank has been dramatically different. Wynne said her first mediation session was an unforgettable experience. The bank’s lawyer didn’t speak to her and hardly looked at her.

She is not alone. Another homeowner said an attorney openly said to her: “You look like you might understand what I’m talking about.”

CERTAIN STATISTICS NOT KEPT

Program administrators said they don’t keep track of gender, race and ethnicity, which makes it difficult to assess a statistical disparity or whether interactions between the banks and homeowners of color are, well, colored by personal prejudice.

But it’s easy to gauge by eyeballs how many homeowners each mediator administers every week. Hartford has four mediators and each has 10 to 12 cases daily. About half of those persons are people of color.

Although some  people might suffer slight indignities, advocates say the court-mandated program seems like the only viable buffer to protect African Americans and Latinos from predatory lenders seeking to skip steps in the federal process for distressed owners who qualify for the Obama administration’s program. Or Servicers who practiced delay tactic, or is a part of the institutional delay evident in the process.

MEDIATION, MANDATORY STOP BEFORE FORECLOSURE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yassah Wynne inside her home in Simsbury.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of Connecticut’s mandatory foreclosure mediation program, Wynne has the opportunity to meet with her bank’s lawyer. In April, the Liberia-born woman, who  immigrated to America in 1988, walked into her first mediation session dazed and anxious. She met her young mediator, who introduced himself and asked: “How are you doing?”

“I can’t eat. I can’t sleep,” she blurted out in her slight Liberian lilt. “I’ve never been through this before. But I’m not hiring a lawyer. I can’t afford it.”

She was still recovering from sticker shock after paying off $20, 000 to her divorce lawyer. And she thought about her 19-year old son about to enter college, and her 14-year-old daughter about to enter high school. And with her part-time job down to only four hours, she had some concerns.

“Don’t worry,” her mediator told her.

“Just tell me they’re not going to lock my door, … my kids are not going to come home and see a locked door,” she said. The mediator told her that’s not going to happen, at least not like that.

“He was just great. He explained things to me,” Wynne said, her round, girlish face with big brown eyes brightened. “All of a sudden I felt relieved.”

Wynne was assigned a mediator, who seemingly cared about her state of mind. That’s not the typical experience. Eager to unload their caseloads, some mediators give the bank the benefit of the doubt when they claim they didn’t receive paperwork; or use that as a reason to exit mediation. For example, when a Windsor homeowner went before the judge, he showed proof of faxed documents to the bank. The judge ordered the homeowner back into mediation.

Wynne’s experience with her bank’s lawyer has only just begun.

“He looked at me like I was an insect,” she said of the young white attorney. “He didn’t open his mouth until he told the mediator he had to leave to pick up his son for soccer.”

Upon hearing that, Wynne thought that the attorney probably didn’t know that she has a son who was on the Simsbury high school’s varsity team and on the honor roll.

“He was probably thinking about what to do with this African girl who shouldn’t be living in Simsbury,” she thought. “I got that slight feeling…. But I guess they are just doing their job.”

On her second visit, another attorney was on the phone during her session, she said. He didn’t look up to talk to her. Then she learned the bank wasn’t ready. So she hurried out of court. It was her only day off during the week, which she gets once per month. She was thinking she could’ve been home cleaning, mowing the lawn, or doing laundry.

Another frustration was the request for more paperwork. She was actually thinking about walking away from her house. She didn’t need the additional stress, she said.

“I’ve been running around for so long. I’m tired,” she said. Then she enumerated the unit levels of stress.

“I spent $32 in Kinko’s. That’s grocery money for my kids,” she surmised.

Now she was angry because her house, she said, is worth more than she owed the bank. There’s still equity.

“I know this is America and people want to make money, but they can’t mess with people’s house like that, especially when you have children.”

ALTERNATIVE SUPPORT TO MEDIATION?

In addition to the court mediation program, the state also has two other programs targeted at distress owners: The CT Families and the Emergency Mortgage Program. Both are by the Connecticut Finance Housing Authority, a quasi-public agency whose mission is to “expand affordable housing opportunities.” Both programs were off to a slow start. Last January, the programs helped only one person.

Since then, the requirements have changed and the CHFA CT Families program has helped 93 homeowners. Of that number, 15 Latinos and 14 African Americans have been helped, compared to 59 whites. In the EMAP program, a total of 149 loans have been processed. Of that number, 12 Latinos were helped and 29 African Americans were helped, compared with 72 whites, and 65 who did not use identifiers, according to state officials.

Considering the percentage of people of color in foreclosure, the numbers are not proportionate. In the age of Obama, this snap shot of state programs also implies—at fist glance—a biblical and secular form of economic oppression, some say.

CT CITIES, CENTER OF FORECLOSURE CRISIS

Housing advocates say it’s not far fetched to say that since 2007, a high percentage of foreclosures are disproportionately found in the cities. And that more should be done to help stem that crisis in already depressed areas.

“It’s safe to say that since communities of color are targeted by subprime lenders, it’s easy to see how many people of color are disproportionately affected,” said Erin Kemple of Connecticut Fair Housing Center, a Hartford–based nonprofit organization that offers foreclosure assistance, including legal help. Kemple advocates for more pro-bono attorneys funded by the sate.

The research supports Kemple’s assessment.

RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosures across the country, forecasts many foreclosures in cities, not just in Connecticut but also across the nation.

According to RealtyTrac, Connecticut cities had the highest foreclosure rates in the following order: Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford. In July alone, there have been respectively 98, 52 and 44 initiations of foreclosure actions in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford. The number for cities almost doubled from last July figures of Bridgeport’s 51, New Haven’s 42 and Hartford’s 28 foreclosures.

The demographic and housing pattern in cities and some suburbs today mirror that of the 1960s and 1970s, not long after the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Connecticut, like other states, had hatch clauses that prohibited white homeowners from renting or selling houses in the suburbs to blacks, Jews and Catholics.

In the late 1960s, former Hartford Councilman George Ritter, now deceased, was known to have helped people of color to buy houses in the suburbs by using whites as front people. But when they did move in, they were racially harassed. In 1980, one black family’s home was bombed after they moved into the suburb of Manchester.

Today, people of color are still concentrated in the state’s urban core. If they’re in the suburbs, they become targets of subprime loans irrespective of income and education, and they receive less help than their white counterparts do to stem foreclosure, researchers say. Agencies that once helped predominantly urban populations, such as ACORN in Hartford, are gone, Cotto said.

President of Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus Tomas Reyes said there was an organization in Bridgeport that also helped many Latinos, but that agency is now defunct. And there’s no particular programs targeted at the Latino population to help them in this crisis. Reyes said his group relies on supporting politicians who will implement policies to address a broad array of services for the community.

The federal government has taken notice of the trend of inadequate services to give extra help distressed homeowners of color. Some say race neutral programs are sometimes ineffective.

At a June hearing by the House Committee and Oversight and Government Reform, bank executives testified about foreclosure prevention efforts. Chairman Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-NY) reiterated the need to do more with the federal administrative modification plan but added that more needs to be done to address the glaring disparities.

“Clearly we need to do a lot better than we’ve done in the past,” he said.

Wynne agreed. Wynne’s third mediation session is scheduled for Aug. 20. She has many questions and wants answers. Why can’t they give her what she can afford to pay now with her 40-hour job and a five-hour part-time job? After all, she said, she is one of the lucky ones: she still has stable income.

“I don’t understand. People around the whole world are losing jobs,” she exclaimed, hands gesticulating, eyes questioning. “I still have a job, no…I have two jobs…and they don’t want to give me a modification. What’s the problem?”

When contacted, a Bank for America representative said they would investigate the matter.

RACE Number Percentage of Total
African American 29 19%
Asian 4 3%
Latino 12 8%
White non Latino 94 63%
Other 21 14%
TOTAL 149 107%
Female 51 34%
Male 66 44%
TOTAL 149 78%

CT FAMILIES                                                                                 Source: CHFA

This story was funded in part by the International Center for Journalists.


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Police: Two Men Rob Elderly Woman At Blue Hills Ave ATM


HARTFORD — Hartford detectives are seeking help in identifying two men who allegedly robbed a 74-year-old woman at a bank on Bluehills Ave.

Police said on Aug. 8 at 9: 30 a.m., they responded to the Bank of America at 701 Blue Hills Ave. after a report of an armed robbery.

The 74-year-old female victim said the two suspects pulled a gun on her as she was exiting the ATM. They robbed her at gun point of her gold chain with a cross pendant and $20, police said.

Police described one suspect as a black male, 20-30 years old, 160lbs with black hair and dark complexion. He was wearing a black hooded sweat shirt and black jeans and was armed with a black revolver with a brown handle.

The second suspect is a black male, 20-30 years old, 5 feet, 8 inches and weighs about 190. He was wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans. (See picture below).

Anyone with information about these suspects or this incident is asked to contact Sergeant Rob Davis Jr. of the Hartford Police Department’s Major Crimes Division at 860-757-4256.

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Community Groups Hold Banks Accountable


New America Media, News Report, Anuja Seith

San Jose, Calif. — Last Friday, when the Bank of America opened a new branch on King Road in East San Jose, protestors holding white flowers in their hands gathered outside the building. The flowers, organizers said, symbolized the community’s loss of faith with the bank.

East San Jose is at the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in the Bay Area.

People Acting in Community Together (PACT), an affiliate of the People Improving Communities through Organizing- (PICO) National Network, organized the event, and brought about a dozen people together who planned to divest from the Bank of America. While PACT is focusing on San Jose, PICO, a national network of faith-based community organizations, is taking initiatives in other parts of the country. Vice Mayor Judy Chirco and candidates running for district 5 City Council attended the event.

District 5 candidate J. Manuel Herrera said he has had an account with the bank for almost 40 years, “I declare my intent to divest from Bank of America within 30 days,” he said. “It is no longer acceptable for banks to solely focus on their profits with no consideration for community and environment.”

The action in San Jose stemmed from a survey PACT did last year in their congregations to assess how the foreclosure crisis had affected them. The survey revealed that when it comes to loan modifications, Bank of America had the worst record in the community. The protestors claimed that Bank of America was not using the money available through Obama’s Home Affordable Program (HAMP) to keep families in their homes.

Protestors said that the money they moved out of Bank of America would be invested into more socially responsible institutions. “We realize bank accountability is a larger issue, so we are encouraging congregations, individuals, cities and counties to look at how banks are serving their communities,” said Lucy Kolin, national spokesperson for PICO. “If we can get more and more money out of these big banks then we can catch their attention.”

According to Adam Kruggel, executive director of Contra Costa Interfaith (CCISCO), which is a member of PICO National Network, “The initial plan for this strategy stemmed from the fact that families and congregations were tired of banks using (their customers’) money to exploit our communities.

“Our idea is that the congregations and large institutions — unions, schools, universities, pension funds, local and state governments — should start moving their deposits and investments out of banks that are not working to keep families in their homes.”

The network is working to identify banks and credit unions that are committed to ending predatory lending.

Gina Gates and Mercy Martinez, both PACT leaders, had moved their money out of the Bank of America and put it into credit unions in their communities. “This was the same bank that is giving huge bonuses to its executives but wouldn’t do my loan modification,” Martinez said. “You feel struck as they keep making you go back and forth without doing anything.”
She said that interest on her loan had skyrocketed, making it difficult to make payments.

“Bank of America is coming in and not doing loan modifications. Neither are they lending to our small businesses so why should they be here,” said Gates. “We think banks only understand dollars. So, we are voting with our dollars.”

But Richard Simon, spokesperson for the bank’s home loans division defended the bank: “Providing solutions to distressed homeowners has been, and remains, a central focus for Bank of America, and we have been at the forefront of industry efforts.”

According to Simon, “Bank of America has been quite responsive to PICO and its affiliates.” Bank officials had multiple face-to-face meetings with PICO leaders, he said.

Protestors however, claimed that despite their interactions with Bank of America executives, nothing had changed. They hoped that by divesting their accounts, it would force the bank to clean up its act.

Recently, the Los Angeles city council unanimously passed the Banking Responsibility Ordinance introduced by councilmember Richard Alarcón a year-and-a-half ago. The ordinance directs the treasury to prepare a scorecard and grade banks based on their performance and their service to the community. The evaluations would then be sent to the city council.

“The whole notion behind this initiative is that the governments need to use public dollars wisely,” Alacron explained. “We could have great leverage if more municipalities call for bank responsibility within their jurisdiction.”

Protestors said that if more cities and counties adopted similar measures, big banks would be more likely to change their corporate policies.

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