BANKTHINK

$25B Mortgage Settlement Is a Joke for Wall Street’s Victims

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The "just about imminent/almost there/give me another day" robo-signing agreement is finally a done deal. Another victory for political expediency over any real inclination to dig too deep into the mortgage mess that’s brought the global economy to its knees.

Do I consider the settlement a joke? For most of the victims of Wall Street’s masterful gaming of the system, I’d say, without qualification, yes. The five big banks involved have succeeded in kicking a can full of worms down the investigative road. They’ve bought more than enough time to huddle with their legions of lawyers and lobbyists to make sure that the lipstick painted on the pig stays on permanently. 

This is a campaign year. Hence, lots of blood, sweat and tears went into crafting an agreement that would be perceived as a real step forward, something that would define the Democrats as "caring" not "kvetching"– of trying to ameliorate suffering, not simply buying into the Mitt Romney notion of getting over the housing hump by "letting the foreclosures proceed."

Yes, the agreement, when finally implemented, will help some. But it certainly doesn’t cure all that ails the housing market. It provides relief for a very limited segment of underwater homeowners possibly facing foreclosure. It doesn’t cover the roughly half of all home mortgages handled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

My favorite stand-out element of the agreement is the checks being offered to some 750,000 victims who’ve already been cut loose from their homes. The dollar number has bounced around a bit…on the low end, $1,500; and a max of $2,000.

Wow! Would that have paid for Jamie Dimon’s travel expenses to the World Economic Forum to discuss the “topic of the year” -- our dystopian economic future? Probably not, unless perhaps he booked six months in advance. Jamie, whose bank, JPMorgan Chase, is a party to the settlement, might have, in retrospect, offered to take along a foreclosed family in lieu of a settlement check. No doubt he knew, weeks ago, that the paltry size of the checks would survive any of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan’s settlement negotiations. 

Again, in a cruel twist of fate, the victims of past foreclosure shenanigans have become victims once again.

Joel Sucher, a filmmaker with Pacific Street Films in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., is working on "Foreclosure Diaries," a documentary about the financial crisis.

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