Treasury department holding back on details of mortgage modification program


Just how effective is the Obama Administration’s effort to help homeowners stave off foreclosure? It’s hard to know, in part because detailed data that could provide part of the answer is not available to the public.

The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) started in February 2009. To date, the $75 billion program has helped about 170,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure by reducing mortgage payments, but the nuts and bolts of how loan modifications are structured, the criteria used to deny and approve modifications, and the documentation used to evaluate the original loans are unknown. The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program has called the program “disappointing.” Initially, the U.S. Treasury Department estimated HAMP would help up to four million people struggling to keep their homes.

The sort of information that would allow for deeper analysis of the program’s strengths and weaknesses has not been released, says Keith Ernst at the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending. For instance, says Ernst, the Treasury Department has data on the terms of the original loan and how the modification program changed the terms. That level of detail might answer important questions. For instance, was the interest rate lowered or did the lender allow a certain amount of the principal to go in forbearance? This sort of information might also reveal how the modified loans performed over time. But Treasury hasn’t released it.

“The data they’re collecting under this program provides insights into how well the government is functioning, areas where it could be improved” says Ernst. Releasing that data, he said, would help “people monitor if the program is being implemented fairly and tracks how taxpayer money is being deployed.”

Ernst said he’s confirmed that the Treasury Department is taking concrete steps to put out the data by this summer. But a spokeswoman for Treasury would neither confirm nor deny that the data would be released. Spokeswoman Meg Reilly noted that Treasury already publishes online progress reports on the modification program.

The Data Mine is not alone in hoping the Treasury Department releases more specifics on HAMP. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform started looking into the effectiveness of the program a couple of months ago. Committee Chairman. Edolphus “Ed” Towns (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner with six pages of questions asking for some of the same information. The committee’s inquiry is ongoing.

About the Data:

What: Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).
Availability: Detailed data on HAMP not released to the public.
Format: Not available.
Usability: Records from lenders on borrower eligibility, underwriting, incentive payments, property verification, terms of original loan, type of modification, performance of modification over time.
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The Data Mine is a joint project of the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation.