Possible Mortgage Relief for Sandy Victims

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced last week that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are unveiling a new mortgage relief program to protect victims of Superstorm Sandy from large spikes in their mortgage payments. Sandy victims who received forbearance will be eligible for a special mortgage relief program that allows those homeowners to lower their monthly payments and avoid sudden payment spikes. Fannie and Freddie’s previous guidelines could have resulted in a typical family being forced to make an immediate balloon mortgage payment of more than $6,000 or see a monthly payment spike of more than $500 or 50 percent. By contrast, the typical family participating in this new program would not only avoid a payment spike, but could also see a more than $200 reduction in their monthly mortgage payment from pre-storm levels.

“I applaud Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency for acting swiftly and unveiling this new program to protect Sandy victims from sudden mortgage payment spikes,” said Governor Cuomo. “Delivering this additional relief is vital to helping ensure Sandy victims can continue to rebuild and recover in the wake of this terribly damaging storm.”

FHFA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac have communicated to DFS that a special mortgage relief program will be available to Sandy victims with Fannie or Freddie mortgages who were current on their mortgage payments before the storm. Among other provisions, the program will lower the homeowners’ interest rate to as low as 4 percent, extend the term of the mortgage, and also provide additional forbearance to homeowners who are severely underwater on their mortgages (owe more on their loan than the market value of their home). Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back more than 65 percent of mortgages in New York.

A DFS investigation also found that many Superstorm Sandy victims receiving insurance claim checks face a hurdle that they often hadn’t anticipated: the check is issued jointly to the homeowner and that homeowner’s bank or mortgage servicer, thus requiring the bank’s endorsement of the check before the homeowner may access the funds. In December 2012 the Department of Financial Services and major banks reached an agreement that improved the situation by speeding advance checks to homeowners. The Department also sent a letter to banks and mortgage servicers in February 2013 proposing a set of best practices to help get relief to homeowners more quickly.