More than 9,000 homeowners in Puerto Rico could save an average of $182 a month, or approximately $2,200 a year, on their mortgage loans as the result of the extension through 2016 of the Home Affordable Refinance Program and the Home Affordable Modification Program, federal authorities said this month.
Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Melvin L. Watt said since HAMP and HARP were first launched in 2009, borrowers have been able to lower their monthly payments and, as a result, have prevented many foreclosures. Some 3.3 million borrowers have already taken advantage of HARP to reduce their monthly payments and obtain some financial relief, he noted.
HAMP provides modifications that allow borrowers significant payment reductions that are tied to their income.
“This gives borrowers a more stable, affordable monthly payment and improves performance rates. The HARP program allows borrowers, including those who are underwater on their mortgage and who are regularly making their mortgage payments, to refinance their loans to take advantage of historically low interest rates,” he said.
As of December 2014, more than 19,000 homes had been foreclosed upon by Puerto Rico banks, pushing the loan delinquency rate to more than 14 percent, according to figures provided by the Office of the Financial Institutions Commissioner, known as OCIF by its initials in Spanish.
“There are many reasons why Puerto Rico is living in the highest foreclosure rate in its history — the release of interest rates by the government and speculation by banks, artificial inflation of property values and the current economic crisis, among others,” said Ángeles Torres, an attorney who specializes in defending homeowners from losing their properties.
Many foreclosures are preventable, she said, if homeowners act in a timely manner and “don’t hide” from the bank.
“They need to seek legal help, people with the expertise to help them in these types of cases because banks aren’t perfect and in recent years have become property foreclosure machines, acting in a predatory way in which debtors aren’t given a chance to modify their loans,” she said.
Since 2006, banks have foreclosed an average of 12,000 homes per year in Puerto Rico, she said.
Part of the problem, she said, is that “banks aren’t necessarily following the rules” when it comes to helping out troubled homeowners.
Programs such as HARP and HAMP are alternatives Puerto Rican homeowners have to avoid losing their homes.
“Although the number of new borrowers entering these two programs continues to decline, in part because many eligible borrowers have already taken advantage of them and in part because of recovering house prices, lenders and servicers are continuing to approve new HAMP modifications and HARP refinances,” Watt said.
“Extending HAMP and HARP through the end of 2016 will provide real relief for borrowers who continue to face challenges either paying their mortgage or refinancing their loan,” he said.
FHFA focuses on regulating and overseeing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Bank System, which are all entities that play significant roles in the housing finance system across the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico.