Kamala Harris, the first African American to be elected Attorney General in the state of California joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch to discuss the rights of homeowners in distress due to foreclosure fraud and the $25 billion settlement.
MR. MARTIN: Welcome to “Washington Watch.” We are in Los Angeles for the NAACP Image Awards, where “Washington Watch” was once again nominated this year. We have lots of stars on our show, but we begin with a rising political star, Kamala Harris, the first African-American elected Attorney General in the State of California. She has been a fierce advocate for victims of foreclosure fraud. Last week, a blockbuster settlement was announced where the five largest banks agreed to pay at least $25 billion to help homeowners who – who were harmed by the banks’ foreclosure practices.
Attorney General Kamala Harris, welcome to “Washington Watch.”
ATTY. GEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Well, thank you, Roland. It’s wonderful to be back with you.
MR. MARTIN: This settlement has been talked about for quite some time, and you were one of the holdouts for quite some period of time. And you made it perfectly clear to the Obama Administration, who was trying to get this thing – you wanted to ensure that homeowners were protected and the banks were not going to get off easy.
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: That’s right. I mean I’m a career prosecutor, and I felt strongly that we needed to bring relief to these homeowners, but not in a way that would give a blank check of immunity to the banks for uninvestigated conduct. And I’m happy to say that, ultimately, we were able to accomplish that goal. We brought $18 billion back to California, along with ensuring that we can investigate conduct that still needs to be investigated – in particular, conduct that might have been predatory in nature as those loans were first originated and – and – and given out.
MR. MARTIN: So, even with this –
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: And what you know is –
MR. MARTIN: — so – so – I’m –
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: — go on.
MR. MARTIN: — sorry. So, even with this settlement, it means that you and other AGs could still hold those folks accountable and not let them off the hook as a result of what took place.
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Absolutely right. So, for example, part of what we’re looking at is what we need to investigate around the servicing of those loans. We want to be able to inv- — continue our investigations around predatory lending activities, and we also want to look at the mortgage-backed securities issue, which was that private investors and public investors bought mortgage-backed securities that may have had no value and that were presented without adequate investigations – and – and – and – and potentially with false claims. So, it – it’s about recognizing that there needs to be accountability and consequence for what happened.
But that’s just one piece of it. It is an important piece, but another piece of it for me is also focusing on what we need to do to create lasting change and change the rules; and we’re going to start here in California by going to my legislature. And we’ve proposed a set of rules about how the law needs to be changed to perform better for the homeowner, so that they understand the process, so that they have one point of contact when they’re going through a mortgage foreclosure and they’re trying to modify the loan, and to just make the system fairer as we go forward so we don’t get back in this situation ever again.
MR. MARTIN: And – and what does it say to you when you have banks and financial institutions who are trying to fight those efforts? You know, I – I always say that if they don’t want to see those things take place, that means there must be something good in there that will keep them from, frankly, harming the consumer when it comes to these homes.
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Well – well, our – our perspective, and my perspective, is, first of all, I have been spending time in these communities. California had nine of the top ten cities in the country in November – and more recently, we’ve had seven of the top ten in the country – hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. And I sit down with these folks, and they’re hardworking people. They are people who did everything that we ask them to do: working hard, playing by the rules, bought a home – and then the economy changed. They’re losing their home, and they’re just trying to stay in it and stay above water. And – and it – and it’s a very difficult process for them, and it’s a process where there are predators who come in – lawyers – saying, “Oh, I’ll” – “Mrs. Smith,” “Mrs. Jones, pay me a few thousand dollars, and I’ll help you stay in your home.” And then they take the money from her, and they don’t help with anything, and that – and – and, basically, they make false claims.
We’re going after that kind of conduct. In fact, I’m suing some lawyers right now who were responsible for – for false claims, that took advantage of vulnerable people. So, there is that component of it – the predators – as well as what we need to do around bank practices, to make sure that – that – that homeowners going through this dual-track process, where they’re in the process of foreclosure and modifying their loan – that they’re in a – in a place where they can actually succeed because the rules are fair. And so that’s another – another component.
This – in California, Roland, 50 – over 50 percent – 55 percent of the homeowners who are in the foreclosure process were African-American and Latino, in spite of the fact that – that that is only about 36 percent of the homeowner population. So, we know certain communities paid some of the biggest price for this conduct, and there needs to be consequence for that.
MR. MARTIN: Well – well, I’ll tell you, AG Harris, we have been very aggressive on this issue on “Washington Watch,” really –
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — giv- — shedding light on this, trying to give people the right information; because at the end of the day, what we have seen [is] we’ve seen property taxes, we’ve seen – go down. We’ve seen people who are doing fine with their homes are owning them – they’re also impacted because their property … values have fallen because homes around them are going into foreclosure. And this –
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Um-hum.
MR. MARTIN: — is really not just an African-American and Hispanic problem. It is affecting nearly every –
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: — sector of this country.
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: That’s absolutely right. It’s abs- — and – and – and it is the American Dream that turned into the American Nightmare, and we’ve got to correct that.
MR. MARTIN: Well, we certainly applaud you and your efforts and – for holding them accountable, and we will certainly continue –
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: — to keep the spotlight on it as well. AG Harris, thanks a bunch; and going to – we look forward to having you back on “Washington Watch.”
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Thank you, Roland. Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: All right.
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: Thank you.
ATTY. GEN. HARRIS: Thank you very much. Okay.