The State of the Nation’s Sustainable Housing

Harvard University Widener Library

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released its The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015 report. I typically focus on the discussion of the mortgage market in this excellent annual report.  Here are some of the mortgage highlights:

  • mortgage delinquency rates nationwide have fallen by half since the foreclosure crisis peaked. But the remaining loans that are seriously delinquent (90 or more days past due or in foreclosure) are concentrated in relatively few neighborhoods; (6)
  • According to CoreLogic, 10.8 percent of homeowners with mortgages were still underwater on their loans in the fourth quarter of 2014; (8)
  • Despite rising prices, homebuying in most parts of the country remained more affordable in 2014 than at any time in the previous two decades except right after the housing crash. In 110 of the 113 largest metros for which at least 20 years of price data are available, payment-to-income ratios for the median-priced home were still below long-run averages. And in nearly a third of these metros, ratios were 20 percent or more below those averages. (22)

The Joint Center believes that “Looser mortgage lending criteria would help. Given that a substantial majority of US households desire to own homes, the challenge is not whether they have the will to become homeowners but whether they will have the means.” (6) I am not sure what to make of that statement.  It seems to me that the right question is whether looser mortgage lending criteria would result in long-term housing tenure for new homeowners. In other words, looser mortgage lending criteria that result in future defaults and foreclosures are of no benefit to potential homebuyers. Too few commentators tie mortgage availability to mortgage sustainability. The Joint Center should take a lead role in making that connection.

One last comment, a repetition from my past discussions of Joint Center reports. The State of the Nation’s Housing acknowledges sources of funding for the report but does not directly identify the members of its Policy Advisory Board, which provides “principal funding” for it along with the Ford Foundation. (front matter) The Board includes companies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which are directly discussed in the report. In the spirit of transparency, the Joint Center should identify all of its funders in the State of the Nation’s Housing report itself. Mainstream journalists would undoubtedly do this. I see no reason why an academic center should not.

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Rules in Favor of MERS in Foreclosure Proceeding, Upholding its Power of Sale Over the Plaintiff’s Property

In Richardson v. Citimortgage, No. 6:10cv119, 2010 WL 4818556, at 1-6 (E.D. Tex. November 22, 2010) the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, granted the Defendants’, Citimortgage and MERS, motion for summary judgment against the Plaintiff, Richardson, in a foreclosure proceeding. The Court reiterated MERS’s power of sale and its role as an “electronic registration system and clearinghouse that tracks beneficial ownerships in mortgage loans.”

Plaintiff purchased his home from Southside Bank with a Note. As the Lender, Southside Bank could transfer the Note and it, or any transferee, could collect payments as the Note Holder. In the agreement, Plaintiff acknowledged that Citimortgage, the loan servicer, could also receive payments. A Deed of Trust secured the Note by a lien payable to the Lender.

Under a provision in the deed, Southside Bank secured repayment of the Loan and Plaintiff irrevocably granted and conveyed the power of sale over the property. The Deed of Trust also explained MERS’s role as its beneficiary, acting as nominee for the Lender and Lender’s and MERS’s successors and assigns. MERS “[held] only legal title to the interests granted by the Borrower but, if necessary to comply with law or custom, [had] the right to exercise any and all of the interests [of the Lender and its successors and assigns], including the right to foreclose and sell the property.”

Plaintiff signed the Deed of Trust but eventually stopped making mortgage payments to CitiMortgage and filed for bankruptcy protection. As a result, “MERS assigned the beneficial interest in the Deed of Trust to Citimortgage.” Citimortgage posted the property for foreclosure after receiving authorization from the United States Bankruptcy Court. Plaintiff brought suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and challenging Citimortgage’s authority to foreclose on the property.

In granting Citimortgage and MERS’s motion for summary judgment, the court explained that Citimortgage could enforce the loan agreements, including the power of foreclosure, after it received the Note from Southside Bank. Furthermore, under the doctrine of judicial estoppel, Plaintiff could not challenge Citimortgage’s right to enforce the Note after he “represented that it was [his] intention to surrender [the] property to Citimortgage,” in bankruptcy court. Citimortgage subsequently acquired a “valid, undisputed lien on the property for the remaining balance of the Note.”

Plaintiff also challenged MERS’s role with “respect to the enforcement of the Note and Deed of Trust.” In response, the court explained that “[u]nder Texas law, where a deed of trust expressly provides for MERS to have the power of sale, as here, MERS has the power of sale,” and that the Plaintiff’s argument lacked merit.

The court described MERS as a “[book entry system] designed to track transfers and avoid recording and other transfer fees that are otherwise associated with,” property sales. It concluded that MERS’s role in the instant foreclosure “was consistent with the Note and the Deed of Trust,” and that Citimortgage had the right to sell the Plaintiff’s property and schedule another foreclosure.

U.S. District Court for Hawaii Rules in Favor of MERS in Non-Judicial Foreclosure Proceeding, Validating its Right to Transfer, Foreclose, and Sell Property as the Lender’s Nominee

In Pascual v. Aurora Loan Services, No. 10–00759 JMS–KSC, 2012 WL 2355531, at 1-18 (D. Haw. June 18, 2012), the court explained the role of MERS in mortgage transfers and granted Defendant Aurora Loan Services’s motion to dismiss the Plaintiff Pascual’s claim that the non-judicial foreclosure executed by Defendant was void as a result of MERS’s invalid assignment of the mortgage.

Under the language of the mortgage, MERS held the power of sale of the subject property and “the right to foreclose and sell the property and to take action required of the Lender.” The mortgage also notified the Plaintiffs that the “Note [could] be sold without prior notice.” MERS, acting as a nominee for the lender, Lehman Brothers, assigned the mortgage to the Defendant after Lehman Brothers filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Shortly after the assignment, the Plaintiffs defaulted on their loan. Defendants subsequently filed a Notice of Mortgagee’s Intention to Foreclosure Under Power of Sale. It held a public auction, and as the highest bidder, recorded a Mortgagee’s Affidavit of Foreclosure Sale under Power of Sale.

Under HRS §677-5, the “mortgagee, mortgagee’s successor in interest, or any person authorized by the power to act,” can foreclose under power of sale upon breach of a condition in the mortgage. Plaintiffs argued that because MERS did not match the description of one these parties, it did not have authority to assign the mortgage to the Defendant, thereby making the transfer invalid. In response, the Court denied the Plaintiff’s assertions and explained the role of MERS, citing Cervantes v. Countrywide Home Loans, 656 F. 3d 1034 (9th Cir. 2011). It described MERS as a “private electronic database that tracks the transfer of the beneficial interest in home loans as well as any changes in loan servicers.” It further stated that “at the origination of the loan, MERS is designated in the deed of trust as a nominee for the lender and the lender’s ‘successor’s and assigns,’ and as the deed’s ‘beneficiary’ which holds legal title to the security interest conveyed.” The court elaborated that under Cervantes, “claims attacking the MERS recording system as fraud fail, given that mortgages generally disclose MERS’[s] role as acting ‘solely as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns,’” and that “MERS has the right to foreclose and sell the property.”

Applying the holding to the present case, the court concluded that the mortgage expressly notified the Plaintiffs of MERS’s role as the “nominee for the ‘Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns,’” which had the power of sale of the subject property without giving notice to the Borrower. For these reasons, the court concluded that the transfer from MERS to the Defendant was valid. As a result, it dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim for a violation of HRS § 667-5.

The Court also dismissed Plaintiff’s motion to amend their claim. Contrary to Plaintiff’s assertions, it concluded that there was not a statutory requirement for the Defendants to provide affirmative evidence that its assignment of the subject property was valid. It also denied Plaintiff’s claim that Lehman Brothers’ entrance into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings precluded it from validly transferring the mortgage to the Defendant.