What are we to make of the servicing settlement announced today with much hoopla? The short answer is not much. The settlement is the large consumer fraud settlement ever, but it accomplishes remarkably little in terms of either alleviating the foreclosure crisis of holding to account those responsible for the housing bubble and subsequent foreclosure abuses. As my Texas relatives say, it’s “All sizzle, no steak.”
Instead, I think the settlement needs be seen as the conclusion to round one of an on-going struggle for accountability and reparations for the enormous damage the housing bubble did to the United States. Whether we will ultimately see meaningful accountability and reparations in the end is very much in question. Round two, featuring the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Fraud taskforce, could well be stillborn; the taskforce combines more motivated and more capable agencies, but it isn’t clear of the motivated can leverage the more capable or will be bogged down by them. But as for this settlement, if this is all that we get, it’s a big nothing.
There are two big issues to parse in the settlement: what does it cover and what sort of relief does it provide. Not surprisingly, both are quite limited; the banks wouldn’t pay big dollars for a small release.