Category Archives: Press Release

HERA and LEGAL SERVICES CENTER OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL FILE CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

December 20, 2017, Oakland, California:

This morning, borrowers represented by HERA and the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School filed a nation-wide class action against the Department of Education for illegally and unfairly denying relief to tens of thousands of former Corinthian students who the Department already decided are entitled to have their loans discharged and their payments refunded.  Not only were they lied to by Corinthian, they have now been lied to by the federal government.

The case was brought by three named plaintiffs:

  • Martin Calvillo Manriquez was talked into WyoTech’s automotive technology program over community college. He didn’t really have an opportunity to even touch cars or car parts while he was enrolled. The school didn’t have tools or certified instructors. While he was in school, he worked at an oil change shop earning $8 an hour. He kept seeing classmates who had graduated from his program applying for the same low-paying, non-technical job he already had. Most of them didn’t even get jobs changing oil. Martin has never had a job related to auto repair. Even though the Department determined that Martin was misled and cheated, and even though he applied to have his loans discharged, the Department has taken two years of tax refunds and garnished his wages to pay back his loans.
  • Rthwan Dobashi owes more than $20,000 for the same program. He has also never worked in the field.  He is married, has two kids, and is expecting a third. In early 2016, he found out from the attorney general that he was eligible to have his debts from WyoTech cancelled, and he applied. He also told one of his friends from school, and his friend applied, too. His friend’s loans were discharged almost a year ago, while Rick still hasn’t heard anything from the Department.
  • Jamal Cornelius’s attended the Information Technology-Emphasis in Network Security program at Heald College, and borrowed more than $25,000. His debt from Corinthian is the only line on his credit report. He has been waiting more than fourteen months for any response to his application for relief.

All three borrowers, and all class members, are entitled to relief pursuant to the Department’s Corinthian Job Placement Rate Rule, which it has established through countless public statements, previous discharges, and direct notice to tens of thousands of covered individuals. The Department may not now change this rule and apply changes retroactively. In other words, it is unlawful for the Department to go back on its word.

See the full complaint here.

Please contact us at inquiries@heraca.org or (510) 271-8443 ext. 300.

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Over 130 Organizations Call on FHFA to Review Policies that Fuel Displacement

FHFA NEEDS TO “REFOCUS” ITS STRATEGIC PLAN

San Francisco, CA—Nov.15, 2017— Earlier today, 136 organizations sent a letter to Mel Watt, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), urging him to review and possibly end policies that are enabling the widespread displacement of low income people and people of color. FHFA is currently revising its strategic plan and had asked for input, which is why advocates are weighing in with the agency. The letter is signed by nonprofit organizations serving communities in more than 20 states.

“It’s no secret that working families throughout the country are facing high housing costs,” explains Kevin Stein, deputy director of the California Reinvestment Coalition. “What we’re calling attention to with this letter is that FHFA policies are exacerbating this problem. As FHFA updates its strategic plan, it has a key opportunity to change policies and to mitigate this problem of working families and households of color being displaced from their homes and their communities.”

“We know that some of the investments by the GSEs are actually increasing housing costs and the displacement of low income people and people of color.  In light of this, FHFA should re-focus its strategic plan to better support homeowners and communities, not Wall Street executives that are buying up our neighborhoods,” adds Maeve Elise Brown, executive director of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates.

“The REO to Rental phenomenon has been a clear disaster for working families,” adds Merika

Regan, a community leader with ACCE in East Oakland. “Renters are experiencing slum-lord conditions, unaffordable rent increases, and are being displaced as a result. There is no compelling reason for Fannie or Freddie to provide financing to companies who are exacerbating the housing crisis in communities across the country.”

Three Victorian Houses in Alamo Square, San Francisco

In their letter, advocates are outlining how the FHFA, in its role overseeing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac (the GSEs), and the Federal Home Loan Bank System, is failing low and moderate income households and people of color in 3 important ways:

1) GSEs are Financing Displacement via Investments in REO to Rental  REO to Rental, a business model created by some of the same Wall Street actors who caused the housing meltdown, has wreaked havoc on local communities. Potential first time homeowners can’t compete against all-cash investors, meanwhile, long-term tenants are experiencing slum-lord conditions and rapidly rising rents, and/or being displaced. Yet, Fannie Mae recently invested in this harmful practice by guaranteeing a $1 billion loan by Wells Fargo Bank to Blackstone/Invitation Homes. Beyond the harm caused to consumers, the California Reinvestment Coalition also highlighted in a 2014 report how the financing structure for most REO to Rental deals is eerily similar to the financing mechanism that ultimately led to the housing meltdown.

2) Federal Home Loan Bank Funds Used for Questionable Mortgage Purchases: FHLB members are supposed to use their access to FHLB credit in order to finance affordable housing and community development. But, according to media reports, Starwood Property Trust, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT), is using relatively cheap funding from the Chicago Federal Home Loan Bank in order to buy non-Qualified Mortgage (QM) loans. These loans do not meet federal ability to repay standards and are therefore riskier for the borrower and the lender. Beyond safety and soundness concerns, advocates are deeply concerned Starwood and similar companies may have a perverse incentive to engage in poor mortgage servicing of these loans in order to foreclose and add more homes to its REO to Rental empire.

3) GSE Affordable Housing Goals Should Consider Gentrification Pressures: FHFA sets important annual affordable housing goals for both Fannie and Freddie that dictate the percentages of loans the GSEs should buy that are made either to low-income consumers or made in low or middle income areas. The Affordable Housing goals are hugely important to efforts to create homeownership for all Americans. But, as gentrification pressures increase, advocates are concerned about the GSEs buying mortgages that were originated to higher-income homeowners in lower income areas or in high-minority census tracts, which could be contributing to gentrification. This is a problem that even FHFA acknowledged, stating that the GSE’s share of loans to wealthier borrowers in low-income census tracts and high-minority census tracts has been increasing.  Advocates suggest FHFA consider lowering the “cap” of loans to higher-income people that count for the GSEs (currently at 14%) in order to meet their affordable housing goals. In this way, FHFA would signal to the mortgage and banking industry the need to increase their efforts to serve low-income homebuyers, not just homebuyers who are purchasing in low-income communities.

Recommendations to FHFA

Advocates are urging Director Watt to review all GSE and FHLB policies with an anti-displacement lens to mitigate the displacement currently happening in low-income communities and communities of color in California and across the US.

Specifically, FHFA should:

1) Prohibit Fannie and Freddie from financing REO to Rental transactions. If FHFA will not do so, it must at the least implement significant protections. If the GSEs intend to continue with these investments, they must include safeguards against first time homebuyers being elbowed out as well as protections for tenants against shoddy maintenance, unnecessary evictions, and unaffordable rent increases.

2) Immediately prohibit REITs from using Federal Home Loan Bank advances for purchasing non-QM loans, distressed loans, or for any investments in REO to Rental that have the effect of destabilizing low and moderate income and of color households and communities.

3) Minimize incentives for lenders to extend mortgages to wealthier homebuyers in low income zip codes.  Currently, the GSEs are allowed to “count” as part of its affordable housing goals up to 14% of their mortgage purchases that are to wealthier homebuyers in lower income or high minority census tracts, and FHFA is proposing to increase this to 15%.  However, advocates suggest that if FHFA were to lower this “cap,” it would incentivize the GSEs, and the lenders they buy mortgages from, to refocus their efforts on serving low and middle income homebuyers. GSE affordable housing goals are critical and must be strengthened and refocused on low and moderate income and of color borrowers to ensure that all Americans are able to achieve the dream of homeownership and wealth accumulation, especially in communities vulnerable to gentrification pressures.

4) Increase oversight and transparency in regards to GSE foreclosures and note sales to guard against unnecessary foreclosures, especially as it relates to Wall Street and private equity companies buying and servicing mortgages as a result of financing from the GSEs.

Additional Context:

In a 2014 report, the California Reinvestment Coalition detailed how REO to Rental companies are depleting affordable housing stock, elbowing out potential first-time homebuyers, and displacing long-term tenants. 

See the original press release on CRC’s website here.

HERA Settles Class Action Against Chase for Violating Fair Debt Collection Laws in Collecting Purchase Money Home Loans

Playtime with my precious girl

Oakland, California, May 26, 2017-   Judge Winifred Smith of the Alameda County Superior Court approved the settlement of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates’ (HERA) longstanding class action lawsuit against Chase Bank for deceptive practices in collecting purchase money mortgage loans.

HERA filed Banks v. JPMorgan Chase Bank (Case No. RG12614875) in January 2012 under California’s purchase money anti-deficiency law, challenging Chase’s attempts to collect mortgages used to purchase family homes. After four years of hotly contested litigation, including HERA’s amicus curiae participation in four related appellate cases, a settlement was reached.  HERA’s Banks case was designated the lead case that consolidated four related anti-deficiency class actions for joint settlement.

Judge Smith granted final settlement approval and entered final judgment on December 9, 2016. The settlement awards $500,000 in statutory damages to Chase borrowers from whom Chase attempted to collect loan balances on purchase money loans; a payment of $364 to each class member regardless of whether they made payments in response to Chase’s collection attempts. The settlement provides additional compensation to class members who made payments, prevents Chase from engaging in further collection efforts, and requires Chase to provide corrective credit reports to the major credit reporting bureaus stating that the borrowers do not owe anything on the loans.

HERA litigation attorneys Arthur Levy, Elizabeth Letcher, and Noah Zinner led the litigation effort, with co-counsel Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg.

For more information please contact, Maeve Elise Brown Executive Director, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, at melisebrown@heraca.org or (510) 271-8443.

Predatory Lending Class Action Against CashCall Opens New Chapter as Federal Courts Turn to California Supreme Court for Guidance

Senior Asian Couple At Home Relaxing On Sofa TogetherOakland, California, May 26, 2017- The nine-year marathon class action litigation attacking CashCall’s exorbitantly high interest loans entered a new phase last month when the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the unusual step of requesting guidance from the California Supreme Court on relevant state law.

CashCall pioneered the high-interest $2,600 personal loan in 2005.  California’s usury law does not place fixed interest rate limits on personal loans in excess of $2,500. CashCall took advantage of this loophole to make $2,600 loans in California at interest rates as high as 135%. Other lenders followed suit, charging rates as high as 200% to Californians seeking short-term loans.

These loans are “subprime,” and typically offered to borrowers with low credit scores, uneven credit histories, and who are in financial distress. CashCall uses saturation TV advertising urging viewers to just get up and “make the cash call.” CashCall’s website says you can “APPLY IN MINUTES & GET CASH TODAY!” with an easy online application.

The class action, filed in June 2008, challenges CashCall’s loans under California’s “unconscionability” law.  This law empowers courts to strike down loans that are unreasonably one-sided or unfair. The case ended up in the federal Court of Appeals after a San Francisco federal judge ruled the courts do not have the authority to invalidate consumer loans or to provide relief to borrowers.

In April 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision invoking the unusual procedure of certifying a question of state law to the California Supreme Court. The federal appeals court asked the California Supreme Court whether loans over the dollar amount of the usury limit ($2,500) can be invalidated under California’s unconscionability doctrine.

Plaintiffs in the case are hopeful that the California Supreme Court will take advantage of this opportunity to issue a ruling protecting California borrowers against predatory loans and validating court power to curb unconscionable lending in California.

HERA’s Director of Litigation, Arthur Levy, is co-lead counsel in the CashCall case with four other law firms.

For more information please contact, Maeve Elise Brown Executive Director, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, at melisebrown@heraca.org or (510) 271-8443.