Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Help for homeowners still snarled by banks

An essential element of last year's $26 billion national settlement with five major banks was that underwater homeowners would get more help. New rules meant banks could no longer hide behind a bureaucratic morass of lost paperwork and other delays to slow a homeowner's loan modification request while simultaneously pursuing foreclosure. But complaints have flooded in that banks are not following through. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a member of the settlement's monitoring committee, should look to the aggressive actions of other attorneys general as a model.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says he plans to sue Wells Fargo and Bank of America, two banks that are part of the settlement, based on homeowners' complaints. Bondi and the monitoring committee should help with that effort, because New York's experience is part of a wider pattern. The Massachusetts attorney general formally complained to the settlement monitor that the agreement's requirements are "often ignored." In California, a recent survey of 84 housing counselors and lawyers found that banks also are noncompliant there.

Bondi says that her office has been "closely monitoring" settlement compliance. But at ground level it doesn't appear to have had much impact. She should check in with Karine Gialella, who specializes in foreclosure defense at Gulfcoast Legal Services in Pinellas County, who says that the settlement has barely altered business-as-usual.

In Gialella's experience, banks rarely reduce the mortgage principal so homeowners can remain in their homes, which was one of the settlement's goals. And rather than expedite and ease loan modifications, banks are making it harder by adding picayune paperwork to their modification application and delaying review so homeowners have to refile their application to keep it current, Gialella says. The extra time adds fees, penalties and interest to the mortgage, making it more likely that homeowners will fall deeper into arrears.

Under the settlement with 49 state attorneys general and the U.S. Justice Department, Ally Financial/GMAC, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo agreed to correct their customer service deficiencies by adopting new servicing standards. Those changes include strict timelines for notifying a borrower of missing documents and for making a decision on the modification request. Banks also promised to end dual-tracking, where a foreclosure is pursued while homeowners are being considered for a loan modification.

The agreement told banks to stop giving borrowers the runaround and start providing tangible relief to underwater homeowners. The banks say they are doing just that, but that assertion is at odds with the experience in many states. Bondi should renew her efforts to ensure that the banks are holding up their end of the agreement.

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Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts arenít worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Another voice: Privacy in the internet age

How much information about you is on your cellphone? Likely the most intimate details of your life: photographs, internet searches, text and email conversations with friends and colleagues. And though you might not know it, your phone is constantly c...
Published: 12/10/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Editorial: Grand jury could force reforms of juvenile justice system

Confronted with documentation of sanctioned brutality and sexual abuse in Floridaís juvenile detention centers, the reaction from Gov. Rick Scottís administration was defensive and obtuse. So itís welcome news that Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17