Has HAMP Helped Distressed Homeowners?

By Teke Wiggin

Before the housing bubble burst, Anthony Ugaro lived across from a country club in Bloomfield, N.J. "I was playing golf every day. I thought I was a duke," he said. But the good life began to unravel for Ugaro, 65, when the military veteran lost his job at an electronics company in 2009. Soon after, he was diagnosed with heart disease, which hampered his ability to work and to keep up with mortgage payments.

Suddenly facing foreclosure, Ugaro twice ignored his doctor's advice and took on part-time jobs to make ends meet. His wife, Judy, currently works three jobs, he said, and they have exhausted $55,000 in savings, all to stay afloat.

The Ugaros are the kind of homeowners that government was trying to help with its flagship housing aid program. But three years later, after repeated efforts to work with their lender through the Home Affordable Modification Program, they've joined millions of others who've had their HAMP applications denied, for reasons many of them find hard to understand. And the Ugaros have just about given up hope.

'We Can't Help You'

Ugaro said he first applied for a mortgage modification under HAMP about a year ago. Wells Fargo told him that his household did not earn enough monthly income to qualify, he said, so Ungaro, who has six stents in his heart, got a part-time job as a crosswalk guard that he said paid $324 a month.

He then reapplied for a modification, but said he was confounded by the bank's response: "They said, 'Now you're making too much. We can't help you.'

"I could see why Jesse James robbed banks," said Ugaro, who finally stopped paying his mortgage two months ago and is now trying to sell his home in a short sale.

He is one of an estimated 2.8 million distressed borrowers who have been denied a permanent modification under HAMP, according to the Government Accountability Office. By many accounts, HAMP has not been adequately implemented by mortgage servicers.

The Ugaros' story is a reflection of the still-marred HAMP application process more than three years after the program's inception -- both in the the way it's so far failed to help many homeowners like them and the way it's showing some improvement.