Md. groups meet with Wells Fargo, urge speedy principal reductions

March 20, 2012|Jamie Smith Hopkins

Maryland homeowner advocates met with Wells Fargo Monday to urge officials not to wait to make changes called for by the national robo-signing settlement, including reducing borrowers' principal.

Thoug the settlement was announced in early February, it was just filed in court and must be approved by a judge before it could go into effect.

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, which helped organize the meeting, brought a petition signed by about 2,800 people "calling on the banks to do more for Maryland families." The coalition asked Wells Fargo to launch its settlement-required principal reduction program by the end of the month, modify loans to 90 percent of the home's value and continue reductions after the settlement "credits are exhausted."

Both sides said the two-hour meeting went well. Wells Fargo officials invited the groups to meet with them again in 60 days to follow up.

"Avoiding foreclosures, wherever possible, is in the best interests of our shareholders, our investors, and most importantly our customers and communities," Andy Bertamini, Maryland regional president for Wells Fargo, said in a statement. "This has and will continue to be our focus as time goes on. Today's meeting was productive and we look forward to continuing dialogue with these organizations as part of our commitment to keeping customers in their homes and stabilizing our local communities."

The consumer rights coalition said Wells Fargo indicated that it had already been doing principal reductions -- Wells Fargo puts the amount forgiven at more than $4 billion since 2009 -- and is taking applications for the settlement-directed principal reduction effort.

The coalition and other groups at the meeting said homeowners are having problems getting information about the process. Wells Fargo said it was open to trying their ideas for improvements, the coalition said.

The executive director of the consumer rights coalition, in a statement prepared for a press event before the meeting, called the national settlement "an important but modest first step in fixing our housing market."

"Today, Wells Fargo has a real opportunity to lead in helping families, not foreclosing upon them," said Marceline White, the head of the coalition. "They have been doing community outreach and we are meeting with them ... to ask them to do much more. In short, we are asking them to put their money where their mouth is."

Others at the meeting included housing counseling organizations such as Baltimore-based St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, legal-assistance groups such as Civil Justice and the social advocacy group Moving Maryland Forward Network.

It wasn't the same sort of scene as the one set at a Wells Fargo branch in Massachussets on Monday, when a group called MassUniting threw a "let them eat cake" mock-celebration of the bank's 160th anniversary, according to news reports.

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