Troubled Asset Relief Program:

Actions Needed by Treasury to Address Challenges in Implementing Making Home Affordable Programs

GAO-11-338T: Published: Mar 2, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2011.

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This testimony discusses our work on the Making Home Affordable (MHA) program, including the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Since the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) first announced the framework for its MHA program over 2 years ago, the number of homeowners facing potential foreclosure has remained at historically high levels. HAMP, the key component of MHA, provides financial incentives to servicers and mortgage holders/investors to offer modifications on first-lien mortgages. The modifications are intended to reduce borrowers' monthly mortgage payments to affordable levels to help these homeowners avoid foreclosure and keep their homes. Since HAMP's inception, concerns have been raised that the program is not reaching the expected number of homeowners. In two prior reports, we looked at the implementation of the HAMP first-lien modification program, noted that Treasury faced challenges in implementing it, and made several recommendations intended to address these challenges. In addition, our ongoing work examines the extent to which additional MHA programs have been successful at reaching struggling homeowners, the characteristics of homeowners who have been assisted by the HAMP first-lien modification program, and the outcomes for borrowers who do not complete HAMP trial or permanent modifications. These programs include the Second-Lien Modification Program (2MP) for those whose first liens have been modified under HAMP, the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program for those who are not successful in HAMP modifications, and the Principal Reduction Alternatives (PRA) program for borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than the value of their homes. This testimony is based on the report on HAMP that we issued in June 2010, as well as on preliminary observations from our ongoing work. Specifically, this statement focuses on (1) the extent to which HAMP servicers have treated borrowers consistently and the actions that Treasury and its financial agents have taken to ensure consistent treatment; (2) the status of Treasury's second-lien modification, foreclosure alternatives, and principal reduction programs; (3) the characteristics of borrowers who received HAMP modifications; and (4) outcomes for borrowers who are denied or fall out of HAMP trial or permanent first-lien modifications.

In June 2010, we reported on several inconsistencies in the way servicers treated borrowers under HAMP that could lead to inequitable treatment of similarly situated borrowers. These inconsistencies involved how servicers solicited borrowers for the program, how they evaluated borrowers who were not yet 60 days delinquent on their mortgage payments, and how they handled borrower complaints. In addition, we noted that while Treasury had taken some steps to ensure servicer compliance with program guidance, it had not yet finalized consequences for servicer noncompliance. We made eight recommendations to improve the transparency and accountability of HAMP in June 2010. Treasury stated that it intended to implement some of the recommendations, but little action has been taken to date. Further, as part of our ongoing work, we identified several implementation challenges that had slowed implementation of newer MHA programs, specifically 2MP, HAFA, and the Principal Reduction Alternative (PRA). For example, we found that servicers experienced difficulties in using a required database to identify borrowers who might be eligible for 2MP, contributing to a slow start for this program. We found that borrowers who were in HAMP trial or permanent modifications tended to share certain characteristics, such as reduced income and having high debt levels, and that those who were canceled from trial modifications or redefaulted from permanent modifications tended to be further into delinquency at the time of their modifications. Lastly, we found that many borrowers who were denied or fell out of HAMP modifications had been able to avoid foreclosure to date. But weaknesses in how Treasury reports the disposition paths, or outcomes, for these borrowers make it difficult to understand exactly what has happened to these homeowners.

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