ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Mortgage lenders now face no fewer than five federal investigations into the way they've handled or mishandled foreclosures. Today, representatives from the Treasury and Justice Departments, as well as at least eight other agencies gathered to talk strategy.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters the government will hold banks accountable for the mistakes they've made.
SIEGEL: Two major lenders that suspended foreclosures announced earlier this week that they plan to resume taking back homes as soon as possible. Today, we look at the foreclosure process in three different places around the country starting in Cook County, Illinois. Foreclosures in the Chicago area remain high, despite the push for loan modifications and the controversy over rushed and sloppy paperwork.
NPR's Cheryl Corley has the first of our reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: About 25 people are entering an auction to bid on foreclosed homes in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Mr. FRED LAPPE (Attorney; Owner, Intercounty Judicial Sales): Good morning, my name is Fred Lappe. I'm an attorney within our county.
CORLEY: Lappe also owns Intercounty Judicial Sales, one of the private firms that handles foreclosure sales for the Cook County courts. This day there's a low-key bidding war going on over a foreclosed home in Evanston, a northern suburb of Chicago.
(Soundbite of auction)
Unidentified Man #1: 167 up front. Once, twice...
CORLEY: That house was the only sale of the day. A number of the other sales were cancelled. Sometimes homeowners get caught up on payments and pull their home out of the auction. Lappe says other sales are delayed because of the robo-signing controversy that prompted several major banks to recently halt or delay foreclosures.
Unidentified Man #2: My guess is while it will give these homeowners a number of weeks or possibly months more in their home, in the end, the result is quite likely to be the same, that these people will lose their homes.
Mr. STEVE PATTERSON (Spokesman, Cook County Sheriff's Office): (Unintelligible).
Unidentified Man #3: Thank you so much.
Mr. PATTERSON: We're in the vicinity of 35th and Mozart.
CORLEY: That's Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County sheriff's office. He's outlining where deputies are putting up eviction warning notices on the doors of foreclosed homes. Officials here expect foreclosures in the county to total more than 50,000 by year's end. The sheriff, Tom Dart, has more than 1,000 homes on his foreclosure eviction list that belonged to the banks that recently froze or delayed foreclosures.
Despite the fact that two banks have resumed foreclosure proceedings, Dart is still suspicious. He says he'll refuse to evict anyone unless the banks produce for him an affidavit, assuring that their foreclosures filed in Cook County are legal and proper.
Mr. TOM DART (Sheriff, Cook County): This is not the lotto. This isn't something where we're rolling the dice and saying, you know what? Possibly this has been done legally. Maybe it hasn't, but in the meantime, you and your children go find someplace to live. Plenty of homeless shelters out there. We can't do that.
CORLEY: Two years ago, Dart refused to carry out evictions at homes where renters hadn't been notified their landlord was in default. He now says unless he gets some concrete assurance that lenders handled their foreclosure process properly, his latest eviction moratorium will begin on Monday.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
TAMARA KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith.
And in Collier County, Florida, the foreclosure freezes announced by some of the nation's biggest banks didn't exactly bring things to a screeching halt. In the first two weeks of this month, 122 foreclosed homes were auctioned off on the first floor of the courthouse in Naples.
Mr. DWIGHT BROCK (Clerk, Collier County Circuit Court): I don't think we slowed down that much.
KEITH: Dwight Brock is the clerk of the circuit court in Collier County. Like so much of Florida, this county on the Gulf Coast has been hit hard by foreclosures. The folks in Brock's office process all the legal documents and schedule foreclosure sales once a judge has ruled. Brock says about 60 percent of the scheduled sales were canceled this month. Sounds like a lot. But that's not much more than the norm.
Mr. BROCK: That's not quite like some of the perception that I've heard in the national media that, oh, these were being stopped. I don't think was the case at all. Not my jurisdiction.
KEITH: County records show Bank of America, Chase and GMAC all moved forward with foreclosure auctions in Collier after announcing they'd halted foreclosures. And since the start of the month, banks have launched foreclosure proceedings against nearly 200 Collier County homeowners.
Mr. BROCK: There's not been an appreciable change in the number of cases that were filed from last month.
KEITH: So how is this possible? I checked in with spokespeople from BofA, Chase and GMAC and they say they've kept their word. It just turns out their pledges to stop foreclosures weren't as wide reaching as they may have originally seemed.
Maria Barbosa, a housing attorney with Legal Aid Services of Collier County says it was never clear to her which, if any of her clients would benefit from a temporary moratorium. So she's been telling them all along to assume that nothing has changed.
Ms. MARIA BARBOSA (Housing Attorney, Legal Aid Services of Collier County): We certainly don't want to give the clients false hope that it may mean that their cases are going to be dismissed.
KEITH: For his part, Dwight Brock says no one enjoys taking someone's home. But he finds the canceled foreclosure sales annoying. He expects most of those sales will be rescheduled eventually. And Brock says taxpayers will get to foot the bill a second time for the sales to be planned and advertised.
Tamara Keith, NPR News.
YUKI NOGUCHI: And I'm Yuki Noguchi.
Bank of America's temporary freeze on foreclosures has been lifted in some states, but is still halting some sales in the state of Arizona. Bank of America purchased Countrywide, which had been a big lender in Arizona, which now has the third highest foreclosure rate in the country. And at least until recently that was spurring home sales. Realtors had been doing swift business selling distressed homes to enthusiastic buyers like Dean Martin.
Mr. DEAN MARTIN (State Treasurer, Arizona): I actually own two properties. I just purchased a short sale earlier this month.
NOGUCHI: Martin is not just any investor, he's also the state's treasurer. And he's not alone in seeking an opportunity in the downturn. One recent study by Arizona State University showed nearly half of existing home sales in September were foreclosures. Still, the state's housing problem, a huge surplus of homes on the market, ranks as Martin's biggest economic concern.
Even at last month's rate, he expects it to take three to four years for Arizona to recover from its housing bust. And the slowdown on foreclosure sales, he says, threatens that momentum.
Mr. MARTIN: It's like a snake's trying to swallow a rat and it gets stuck halfway. We're trying to swallow this rat of all the foreclosures. And if we stop halfway, that's going to prevent us from recovering.
NOGUCHI: Speaking from a Phoenix realty office, which he happened to be visiting today, Martin says he hopes Bank of America will resume its foreclosure process in Arizona quickly - in weeks, not months. But what concerns him is also timing. Namely, that the federal and state investigations are all happening on the eve of elections.
Mr. MARTIN: When you have 50 elected officials all promising to investigate right before an election, rather than being able to quickly sort this out and get going again, all of the financial institutions immediately go on the legal defensive and drag this out for a year or two, and that will delay a recovery.
NOGUCHI: Martin himself is not having to make any such campaign promises. The Republican says he plans to retire from public service after this year.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.