Humpty Dumpty and the Foreclosure Crisis: Lessons from the Lackluster First Year of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)

This Article examines in detail the disappointing first year of the Obama Administration’s foreclosure mitigation effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), including its premises, mechanics, slow start, and ultimately modest results. The Administration committed $75 billion to try to help three to four million struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and reduce the spillover effects of the foreclosure crisis on the economy as a whole. After a year of operations, ending in March 2010, only about 230,000 borrowers had entered into permanent HAMP modifications, and even these were not necessarily truly permanent. Government agencies predicted a redefault rate of 40% or more because HAMP borrowers were typically left owing more on their homes than their value and with high and difficult-to-sustain debt burdens overall. HAMP is a compelling illustration that prevention is easier than cure; the challenges of getting relief to millions in a short period of time proved daunting. A partial front-end regulatory fix was adopted, applicable to future subprime home loans, but if policymakers and regulators are ever tempted again to ease up constraints on high-risk financial products such as subprime mortgages, they should remember the cautionary tale of HAMP.