California received more than 40 percent of the mortgage-relief benefits from a 49-state National Mortgage Settlement in 2012, a UCI professor reported Thursday.
Katherine Porter, the law professor appointed to monitor the settlement for California, estimated that about 175,000 borrowers got $20.6 billion so far from the five major banks involved in the February 2012 settlement.
Nationwide, the five lenders are estimated to have paid about $45.8 billion in mortgage relief to more than 550,000 U.S. borrowers, according to a separate report released Thursday by the national Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight.
The settlement stems from a multi-state lawsuit over a host of alleged foreclosure abuses including "robo-signing," the widespread signing off on home seizures without proper reviews.
Paul Leonard, California director of the Durham, N.C., based Center for Responsible Lending, called the numbers released Thursday encouraging. But, he added, there are still a "pretty heavy amount" of short sales, with people losing their homes.
"No one was ever under the illusion that the dollar amounts of the settlement were ever intended to address all of the needs of borrowers at risk of foreclosure," Leonard said.
Independent settlement monitor Joseph Smith reported that the five lenders participating in the settlement -- Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Bank -- have shifted away from short sales to helping more borrowers keep their homes.
In California, almost 93,000 borrowers received $11.2 billion worth of loan reductions or debt forgiveness from March through December, Porter's state analysis showed.
By comparison, nearly 60,000 California borrowers walked away last year from about $8.8 billion in unpaid debts during short sales -- or sale for less than is owed on the mortgage.
Porter's analysis shows further that nearly 8,300 underwater homeowners were able to refinance their mortgages and lower their monthly payments, saving about $444.6 million.
An Orange County consumer advocate said the settlement funds have been a "tremendous benefit" for some homeowners who got help already. That help has included reduction of loan amounts and monthly payments.
"Some homeowners have had their financial situation completely turned around by significant mortgage assistance through these programs," said Natalie E. Lohrenz, a housing and credit counselor with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County.
But, she added, "We have to put the numbers in perspective. On average, more than 500 California families have lost their homes every day since the end of 2007. That's nearly a million families, with over 800,000 actually losing their homes to foreclosure and many more forced into short sales.
Lohrenz noted that there are "many thousands more who are still waiting for help, and for them, it's not enough -- yet."
Pat Pinto, a foreclosure expert at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, said most homeowners seeking a principal reduction on their first mortgage are not getting them.
While several Orange County homeowners get their second mortgage reduced or eliminated, the second mortgage usually is just a fraction of the first mortgage. Many who can't get reductions on their primary mortgages are forced into a short sale, Pinto said.
"If the servicers really want to help a homeowner keep their home, then they need to reduce the principal on the first mortgage, not the second," she said
Smith, the national settlement monitor, conceded that not everyone is happy with progress so far.
"I know from my regular conversations with advocates across the nation that the banks and I have much more work to do on behalf of borrowers," Smith said.
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