In their fight with banks over mortgage losses, investors get on borrowers’ side

By Ariana Eunjung Cha and Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writers

The fight between big banks and investors who lost a fortune on mortgage-backed securities is shifting from private litigation to the public arena.

The change in strategy comes as the number of foreclosures continues to skyrocket. Banks repossessed 1 million homes in 2010, and the number is expected to increase this year.

While the investors have been angry at the banks for several years for the losses, their legal efforts have not gotten far, mostly because of the difficulty of organizing enough peers for class-action lawsuits and of prying information from the lenders. But the recent uproar over the banks’ foreclosure practices has given the investors a way to pressure lenders outside the courts.

As Congress begins discussing potential mortgage servicing legislation, and as the group of 50 state attorneys general investigating problems with foreclosures continues to hammer out details of a settlement with the banks, the investors find themselves fortuitously aligned with borrowers who are facing foreclosure and who have the sympathy of lawmakers.

The Association of Mortgage Investors, a Washington-based group that represents hedge funds, state pension funds, charitable endowments and other investors, on Wednesday fired the latest salvo by issuing a “white paper” that delineated its views on what would constitute an acceptable settlement between the banks and the state attorneys general. The investor group is calling for improvements to servicing and transparency that the banks have resisted in the past.

“We’re focused on developing real solutions to sort out the housing finance market and broken servicing model in an equitable fashion for responsible borrowers, distressed homeowners, mortgage servicers and the mortgage investors,” said Chris Katopis, executive director of the group.

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