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CFPB acts to head off 2021 foreclosure crisis

The CFPB proposes prohibiting servicers from filing for a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process through the end of the year.

In response to findings that 2.1 million U.S. households are at risk of losing their housing as legal protections against foreclosures and evictions expire in 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published a proposed mortgage servicing rule on April 5 as a first step to head off what Acting Director Dave Uejio has called “a national foreclosure and eviction crisis.” 

The looming problem

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which was signed into law on March 27, 2020—provided up to 360 days of forbearance for homeowners with mortgages purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and loans made, insured or guaranteed by the FHA, VA or USDA if they requested forbearance from their servicer and attested to a financial hardship during the COVID-19 emergency.

The federal agencies announced in February 2021 that the moratorium deadlines would be extended until June 30. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced in February that they were expanding forbearance for up to an additional six months, for a maximum of 18 months of forbearance for borrowers who requested additional forbearance by June 30, 2020. 

“The Bureau is not aware of another time when this many mortgage borrowers were in forbearances of such long duration at once, or another time when as many mortgage borrowers were forecast to exit forbearance within a relatively short time frame,” the CFPB said in its proposed rule. 

The CFPB findings

he findings relied upon by the Bureau were published in a March 1 CFPB Report, which found that:  

  • As of January 2021, there were 2.7 million borrowers in active forbearance. Of the loans actively in forbearance, 903,000 are owned by the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), 1.26 million are insured by the FHA or VA and 678,000 are held in a portfolio or are privately securitized.
  • As of January 2021, there were an estimated three million borrowers who were 30 days or more delinquent on their mortgage obligations. This number has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic—from 3% in March 2020 to 6% as of December 2020.
  • Of these three million borrowers, 2.1 million were behind by at least three months on mortgage payments. The amount of homeowners who have fallen more than 90 days on their mortgage has increased by 250% since the beginning of the pandemic, and is now at a level not seen since the height of the Great Recession.
  • There were 242,000 borrowers not in a forbearance program who were 90 days or more delinquent as of January 2021.
  • Homeowners are estimated to owe almost $90 billion in deferred principal, interest, taxes and insurance payments.
  • Black and Hispanic families are more than twice as likely to report being behind on housing payments than white families.
  • Households with incomes below $75,000 are more than twice as likely to be behind than households with incomes above $75,000. 
  • Mortgage loans insured by the FHA have fared significantly worse than other loan types; their delinquency levels exceed those seen in the last financial crisis.
  • 28% of manufactured home residents reported being behind on their housing payments, compared to 12% of single-family home residents and 18% of residents in small- to mid-sized multi-unit buildings.
  • Households that appear to be thriving according to the CFPB data may be struggling in real life. Many house-holds rely on nontraditional forms of financing to prevent falling behind on their housing payments, whether that may be credit cards, emergency savings or family and friends. Additionally, their distress may be masked by temporary government assistance, such as stimulus payments.
  • One strength of the current housing market is that the average home-owner has built up a considerable amount of equity, and home prices in most parts of the country are still rising. But long-term forbearance can erode equity, and foreclosures can negatively impact neighborhood housing values.

The CFPB proposal

According to the CFPB, its proposed rule “seeks to ensure that both servicers and borrowers have the tools and time they need to work together to prevent avoidable foreclosures.”

First, the proposed rule would establish a temporary COVID-19 emergency pre-foreclosure review period that would generally prohibit servicers from making the first notice or the filing required by applicable law for any judicial or non-judicial foreclosure process until after December 31, 2021.

Second, it would permit servicers to offer certain streamlined loan modification options made available to borrowers with COVID-19-related hardships.

Finally, it proposes amendments to the early intervention and reasonable diligence obligations to ensure that servicers are communicating timely and accurate information to borrowers about their loss mitigation options during the current crisis.

Given “the urgency of the crisis,” the CFPB is requesting comments be submitted before May 11, 2021.

Sue Johnson is the former executive director of RESPRO, the Real Estate Services Providers Council Inc. She retired in 2015 and is now a strategic alliance consultant.