By Jon Prior
The wind blows the tightly regulated part in his hair. The stage seems makeshift, but the scene in front of a foreclosed home in Florida is well choreographed.
In January, the Mitt Romney campaign chose this quiet neighborhood in Lehigh Acres, Fla., just to the east of Cape Coral and Fort Myers, to give some of the first insight into how the eventual Republican nominee would combat a foreclosure crisis still raging five years after the housing meltdown.
“You’re wondering what’s going on behind me over here,” Romney says, displaying a mechanical awkwardness that has haunted his attempts off the script before and since. “This home is in foreclosure. They bought a home, got an adjustable-rate mortgage, and their payments went up and up and up, and they met with their mortgage banker who told them to stop making payments on the old mortgage so we can get you a new one. You know that story. So they got a foreclosure notice.”
There are some boos. The family he’s talking about stands off to the side behind the stage in the yard.
“But they worked that all out,” Romney goes on. “Believe it or not, with lawyers and all that, they got a new mortgage and began paying every month. Made the payment for six months, but they got another foreclosure notice. And they called the bank and said, ‘We made our payments every month. You’ve been cashing our check.’ And the bank said, ‘Oh we’ve been applying those payments to your old mortgage.’”
It’s a familiar story in Florida, which took center stage to the robo-signing saga. Mortgage servicers had to settle with the Obama administration and 49 state attorneys general for $25 billion in fines and relief to homeowners for fast-forwarding the foreclosure process at the expense of an untold amount of homeowners.
The scandal sparked some of the worst vitriol toward the industry since bankers rode out of Washington with more than $700 billion in bailouts during the financial crisis. But what Romney says next hints at how he views the unfortunate mechanics of an industry that never adjusted until it was too late. The media would slap the quote across front pages in the morning.
“The banks aren’t bad people,” Romney says. “They’re just overwhelmed right now.”
Throughout his campaign, commentators made much about Romney’s lack of specifics toward his plan to rebuild housing. Indeed, there isn’t much in the way of details. But along the campaign trail, bits and pieces can be found. In this one, in front of a foreclosed home in Florida, he continues a mantra that the real estate market “should be allowed to hit bottom,” and the failed programs from the Obama administration should be shelved.
In a more detailed plan released at the beginning of September, Romney attempted to pin the foreclosure crisis on Obama himself. The document asserted “under President Obama … homeowners have received more than 8.5 million foreclosure notices.”