Thursday, April 26, 2018
Business

Even in hard hit Tampa Bay, too few knew about the Independent Foreclosure Review process to make it successful

ST. PETERSBURG — After months of getting nowhere with complaints over the foreclosure of her home, Denise Lennon, 64, turned to what the government had touted as a check for bank abuses: the Independent Foreclosure Review.

But after volleys of paperwork and weeks more of waiting, Lennon's hopes of a review just took a fatal hit. The $8.5 billion settlement announced by regulators Monday will absolve banks of foreclosure-abuse allegations and end the review.

Local attorneys, housing counselors and distressed homeowners said the abrupt end meant their attempts to secure a second opinion in foreclosure cases, many of which led to evictions, could bring them little relief.

Homeowners stand to receive a cut of the settlement money, ranging from hundreds of dollars up to $125,000, whether they filed for a review or not, the Federal Reserve said. But the size of individual payouts and whether they will adequately pay back people who lost their homes in error remain a mystery.

"Consumers put their time, their interest into this, and they just scrap it and walk away," St. Petersburg foreclosure attorney Matt Weidner said. "It's a slap in the face to consumers who filled out this paperwork to document wrongdoing, and they're told it doesn't matter."

Despite Tampa Bay's notoriety as a foreclosure capital of the country — more than 70,000 cases remain pending in local courts, state data released Monday show — the review never gained traction locally among homeowners in distress.

Of the 86,000 review letters mailed across Tampa Bay by September, Federal Reserve data shows, only 3,000 people replied. That 3.5 percent response rate is lower than Florida and the rest of the country, where about 5 percent replied.

Counselors said eligible borrowers did not understand the review, did not know about it or were already disenchanted by the foreclosure process. The Government Accountability Office said last year the review was "too complicated to be effective," and that review documents were written above the average American reading level, making them "too complex to be widely understood."

The few who did apply for review, like Lennon, are left wondering what their efforts earned them.

"When they saw that people were complaining they could have taken the complaints seriously and addressed those complaints. But they didn't," Lennon said. "We trusted the banks, and it was a joke."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 893-8252 or [email protected]

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