A YEAR ago, 49 states and the federal government brought five of the country’s biggest banks to heel. They crafted a nationwide foreclosure settlement that ended a series of abuses, and committed the banks to keeping struggling homeowners off the streets. The settlement is working. But as it takes hold, it’s exposing a huge rift in the housing market. The government’s own mortgage arms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, still won’t meet the same standards the big banks have committed to, and until they do, foreclosures will continue to drag on.
Prior to last year’s settlement, the nation’s biggest banks greeted the foreclosure crisis with indifference. They paid lip service to the notion of helping troubled homeowners, but let homeowner assistance languish while they rushed foreclosures through the system. They signed legal papers they hadn’t read, and they seized homes they didn’t legally own. They treated their own rights as lenders as sacrosanct, but trampled on consumers.