Loan defaults in a popular program meant to finance energy-saving home upgrades have increased substantially, despite lenders’ claims that few borrowers have missed payments.
The small, high-interest-rate loans were made as part of the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, or PACE, a nationwide initiative designed to help people afford solar panels, energy-efficient air-conditioners and other “green” appliances. PACE loans are among the fastest-growing types of loans in the U.S.
The rise in defaults means some borrowers are at risk of losing their homes over relatively small loan amounts and that local governments are put in the awkward position of having to collect troubled debts for private companies.
Private lenders in the PACE program have told Wall Street investors, as well as local and federal government officials, that borrower defaults are rare and that no homeowners have gone into foreclosure as a result of the program, according to investors and public officials.
But a Wall Street Journal analysis of tax data in 40 counties in California — by far the biggest market for PACE loans — shows that defaults have jumped over the last year. Roughly 1,100 borrowers have missed two consecutive payments this year through the tax year that ended June 30, compared with 245 over the previous year. That means they are in default, and could potentially have their homes auctioned off by local governments within five years.
The lenders, including Renovate America Inc., Ygrene Energy Fund and Renew Financial Inc., say the overall default rate of less than 2% provided by the Journal’s analysis is in line with the average percentage of people who miss property-tax payments.
A spokeswoman for Renovate America said the partial data gathered by the Journal is more negative than what the company is seeing. Rocco Fabiano, the chief executive of Ygrene, said in a statement that “Ygrene’s PACE delinquency rate remains far below that of average property tax delinquencies in California.” A spokesman for Renew Financial said property owners in its CaliforniaFIRST PACE program “have similar delinquency and default rates as all other property owners.”