Banks Are Adding Insult To Injury In Puerto Rico

As Puerto Rico continues to suffer months after a direct hit from Hurricane Maria, the island’s residents face a new challenge which could wind up leaving thousands of people homeless.

At least 35 percent of the island is still without power, businesses are shuttered, and many Puerto Ricans are jobless. Meanwhile, according to The Intercept, residents are starting to receive foreclosure notices.

“Puerto Rican homeowners have kicked foreclosures into high gear in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, skirting local and federal borrower protections. According to attorneys and experts, lenders have ignored federal moratoria on foreclosures; placed notices of default in newspapers where they’re unlikely to be seen; sent files to homeowners in English rather than Spanish; and required residents to complete tasks that are borderline impossible without electrical power yet fully restored, among other abuses.”

At least a third of the 425,000 homeowners in Puerto Rico have fallen behind on their mortgage payments, and with many now also jobless, that number is expected to rise dramatically in the months ahead. And many of those who have mortgages don’t even understand their legal rights, according to Veronica Rivera of the group Right to Your House, a legal aid group:

“Many times they don’t know about their rights. They think that the bank would understand that they can’t pay because they lost their jobs. It surprises me sometimes how much trust people have in the banks.”

Even worse is the fact that many of the lenders are actually in violation of the law that protects homeowners during a natural disaster:

“After Hurricane Maria, the federal government imposed a foreclosure moratorium on homes either backed by government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or those with Federal Housing Administration insurance.”

The problem is that the moratorium only applies to a small percentage of mortgages on the island, and the lenders who aren’t barred by law from foreclosing during the moratorium are repossessing homes at a record pace. As always, the bottom line is profit, even at the expense of individuals and families. Jim Baker, the founder of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, commented:

“They’re churning through the portfolio. Maybe they believe the land is worth more than keeping people in the homes.”

Featured Image Via Wikimedia