HUD Settles with North Carolina Commercial Lender Over Alleged Fair Lending Violations

On June 8, HUD announced a conciliation agreement with a North Carolina-chartered commercial lender to resolve allegations that, as the successor of a merger with a South Carolina-based bank, it denied mortgage loans to African American, Latino, and Asian American applicants at a disproportionately higher rate than white applicants in violation of Section 804(b) and 805 of the Federal Fair Housing Act. After conducting an analysis of mortgage loans originated by the South Carolina bank between 2010 and 2011, the Department found that the bank demonstrated preferential treatment of white mortgage loan applicants through the retail channel via manual override of its automated underwriting system. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the commercial lender, having cooperated with HUD’s investigation, must among other things, (i) provide nonprofit organizations with $140,000 to use toward credit and housing counseling, financial literacy training, and related programs for first-time homebuyers in South Carolina; (ii) spend an aggregate amount of $20,000 on positive marketing, advertising, and outreach to residents in majority-minority census tracts in South Carolina; (iii) partner with a non-profit organization or community groups involved in financial education to conduct, at a minimum, 24 financial education programs in South Carolina for individuals and small business owners; (iv) hire three mortgage banker market specialists to “focus on diverse lending in Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, Columbia, and Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin metro areas”; (v) require fair housing training for all employees and agents substantially involved in manual underwriting of mortgages; and (vi) implement “a new standardized and objective set of guidelines for a second review of retail channel residential loan applications initially denied by the automated underwriting system.”


HUD Determines Down Payment Assistance Programs Eligible for FHA Insurance

This week, FHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Housing and Head of FHA, Edward Golding, issued a letter informing stakeholders that “HUD has determined that housing finance agency down payment assistance programs are legal and consistent with the National Housing Act.” We note that the letter was not a Mortgagee Letter nor was it published in the Federal Register and may be considered informal guidance.

In the letter, Golding advised that:

  • Government entities may provide borrowers with funds for down payments on FHA loans; and
  • Loans that include down payment assistance (DPA) provided by state and local housing finance agencies (HFA) continue to be eligible for FHA insurance.

Golding’s letter emphasized the benefits of DPA programs, commenting that such programs facilitate access to homeownership for low- and moderate-income families. Still, Golding noted that FHA will continue to monitor and mitigate any potential risk associated with DPA programs: “[w]e will work diligently to reduce the impact of these risks on our portfolio. We know it is possible to accomplish this as the research shows carefully designed programs perform better.”

Golding’s letter purports to resolve a matter of dispute regarding DPA between FHA and the HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG). Last year, HUD OIG audited an Arizona-based mortgage lender and issued a report concluding that the lender originated FHA loans that included gift DPA that did not comply with FHA rules and regulations. Specifically, the audit found that, among other things:

  • The lender inappropriately allowed premium pricing to be used as a source for the borrowers’ down payments, which were not true gifts and were indirectly repaid by the borrowers through a higher premium rate;
  • The lender used programs that had a circular funding mechanism (i.e., the program was structured to generate revenues through the sale of mortgage-backed securities); and
  • The lender did not perform due diligence to ensure DPA was eligible.

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FHA Proposes Revisions to Reverse Mortgage Program

On May 18, HUD announced that the FHA proposed a new rule that is intended to “strengthen” its Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) Program by reinforcing reforms that have taken place in the past two years, and by adding new consumer protections. New revisions to the HECM program outlined in the proposed rule include, but are not limited to, (i) ensuring that required HECM counseling occurs before a mortgage contract is signed; (ii) amending the definition of “property charges” to include utilities as a borrower responsibility; (iii) capping lifetime interest rate adjustments for adjustable interest rate products at 5%; (iv) requiring as a condition of eligibility for loan assignment that the HECM mortgage be in lien status prior to homeowners association and condo association liens; and (v) creating a “cash for keys” program to “incentivize parties with legal authority to dispose of a property that serves as the security for a HECM to complete a deed in lieu of foreclosure more quickly.” Comments on the proposal are due by Monday, July 18, 2016.


DOJ Settles with New Jersey Mortgage Lender Over False Claims Act Violations

On April 15, the DOJ announced a $113 million settlement with a New Jersey-based mortgage company to resolve allegations that the mortgage lender violated the False Claims Act. According to the DOJ, the mortgage company – acting as a direct endorsement lender in HUD’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program – knowingly originated and accepted FHA-insured mortgage loans that did not properly comply with HUD origination, underwriting, and quality control requirements. As part of the settlement agreement, the mortgage company agreed that it failed to (i) meet HUD underwriting requirements from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2011; (ii) adhere to FHA’s quality control requirements between 2006 and 2008 by not sharing with production and underwriting management its early payment default quality control review; (iii) perform timely quality control reviews or perform audits of early payment defaults between 2008 and 2010; and (iv) report improperly originated loans between 2006 and 2011. The DOJ’s investigation further found that, after conducting a review of FHA loans underwritten between 2007 and 2012, the mortgage company self-reported to HUD only one of hundreds of loans that the company identified as not meeting FHA mortgage insurance requirements. Per the settlement agreement, the mortgage company must make an initial payment of $26 million by May 2, 2016.


DOJ Settles with National Bank Over Underwriting Practices

On April 8, the DOJ announced a $1.2 billion settlement with a San Francisco-based bank and the bank’s Vice President of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance to resolve allegations that the bank submitted false claims for FHA insurance in connection with loans that did not meet FHA underwriting standards. According to DOJ, “[d]uring the period May 1, 2001 through on or about December 31, 2008, [the bank] (or its predecessor) submitted to HUD certifications stating that certain loans were eligible for FHA mortgage insurance when in fact they were not.” The settlement agreement further explains that when certain of these loans defaulted, HUD paid for the insurance claims out of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. In addition, the settlement agreement states that from January 2002 through December 2010, the bank failed to inform HUD that the bank’s quality assurance personnel had determined that some of the FHA-insured loans contained a material finding. In response to this failure to self-report, the DOJ also asserted claims against the bank’s VP of Credit-Risk – Quality Assurance, as the individual responsible for overseeing the bank’s self-reporting policy and procedures. Both the bank and the individual officer acknowledged responsibility for the alleged violations as part of the settlement agreement.