The state of Maryland yesterday agreed to a plan for bailing out Equity Programs Investment Corp., the real estate subsidiary of Community Savings & Loan, that officials said could cut in half the state's potential losses of more than $120 million at the troubled thrift.
The plan, proposed by a group of major EPIC creditors, is still subject to the approval of other EPIC creditors and companies that insured EPIC mortgages, as well as the bankruptcy judge overseeing the reorganization of more than 350 EPIC real estate partnerships.
Maryland officials, moreover, stressed that the state, which assumed responsibility for insuring deposits at Community earlier this year, still faces heavy losses because of the situation at EPIC. They also said it is too early to tell when more than 28,000 Community depositors will have access to their frozen funds.
But officials involved in untangling EPIC's finances said the agreement on a plan for selling off EPIC property represents a milestone in solving the real estate syndication group's troubles. If the plan is approved, they said, the state can proceed with divesting Community of EPIC and turn to finding a buyer for the thrift.
"It is a significant and important step forward in our effort to restore the financial integrity of Community, minimize any exposure to our taxpayers, and provide relief to the association's depositors," Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes told state legislators yesterday.
The Bethesda-based Community was placed under state conservatorship at the beginning of September, after its EPIC subsidiary failed to meet obligations on $1.4 billion of mortgage debt. The partnerships established by EPIC, which bought more than 20,000 houses around the country, also filed for bankruptcy in Virginia.
Officials from the state conservator, the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, have been negotiating with other EPIC creditors over a plan to liquidate EPIC's properties and avoid the massive losses that would occur under a forced sale of the property. Those losses include at least $120 million of funds loaned by Community to the various EPIC partnerships.
Under the complicated agreement reached yesterday with a group of major EPIC creditors, those losses should be cut by at least $60 million and by as much as $80 million, officials said. The exact figure is not known because, under the plan, Maryland will be obtaining the right to a variety of assets whose exact value depends on as-yet-undetermined circumstance related to the sale of EPIC property.
Maryland has been in a weak negotiating position because, except for about $25 million in first mortgages, the bulk of the loans Community advanced to EPIC were not secured by either property or securities. Under federal bankruptcy law, unsecured claims take a back seat to secured claims, such as those asserted by more than 100 savings institutions that together own the EPIC mortgage debt.
The plan announced yesterday would essentially improve Maryland's claims to some of EPIC's assets as a price for going along with the plan.
The state, for instance, would be given a $40 million note bearing a 9 percent interest rate, to be funded out of various EPIC assets. In addition, about $25 million in second mortgages issued by Community would be considered to be perfected, and hence, the state would have a priority claim to these funds. These mortgages would have been considered unsecured claims because they were not recorded by EPIC in local land offices, as required by law, negotiators said.
One source estimated Maryland would be getting about $28 million that it would otherwise not have had the right to. The state was able to win this concession because of its key role as conservator at Community, especially in retaining access to EPIC records, the source said.
"The return Maryland hopes to get is much greater than it would get outside a plan of reorganization. That's why Maryland made such an effort to reach agreement," said Daniel Lewis, a Washington attorney who helped Maryland negotiate the deal. "As soon as this gets under way, the large focus of our attention will be returning to Community to get its balance sheet in order."
Lewis and other officials emphasized, however, that the plan still needs the approval of other parties, such as the mortgage insurance companies, who might be reticent to join in.
The plan announced yesterday was proposed by a group of major EPIC creditors, including the Federal National Mortgage Association and Salomon Bros. As previously disclosed, the plan calls for the EPIC houses to be sold over a five-year period.
During this time, investors would agree to take a cut in the interest rate paid on EPIC mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, from about 13.8 to 9 percent. The monthly payment would be met through a combination of rent and contributions from the mortgage insurance companies, which face potential losses at EPIC totalling more than $350 million.
Sources said that the mortgage insurers are scheduled to meet today to discuss the plan, but an official at Ticor Mortgage Insurance Co., the firm with the most to lose at EPIC, expressed skepticism about the plan.