State of the Union: Obama’s Housing Proposal

26 01 2012

President Barack Obama proposed a new program during his State of the Union address on 1/24/12 to allow homeowners with privately held mortgages to refinance at lower interest rates.

The program would cover both loans issued by government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and private mortgage lenders. Congress would have to approve it, a difficult hurdle.

“There’s never been a better time to build, especially since the construction industry was one of the hardest-hit when the housing bubble burst,” Obama said. “Of course, construction workers weren’t the only ones hurt. So were millions of innocent Americans who’ve seen their home values decline. And while government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.”

The housing bubble was at the center of the recession, prompting widespread foreclosures and leaving millions of homeowners with houses valued at less than their mortgages.

Under the plan, any homeowner current on his or her mortgage could take advantage of historically low lending rates. Mortgage rates have been below 4 percent for months.

A small fee on large banks would pay for the program, senior administration officials said.

Administration officials offered few details but estimated savings at $3,000 a year for average borrowers. It’s likely that millions of homeowners would be eligible, but they would have to seek out refinancing options under the program with their lender. Other government programs allow lenders to seek out potential applicants.

Further details of the program will likely be released in legislation in the next few days, officials said.

The new program would expand the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Refinance Program, which allows borrowers with Fannie and Freddie-backed loans to refinance at lower rates. Few people have signed up for that program. Many “underwater” borrowers – those who owe more than their homes are worth – couldn’t qualify.

About 1 in 4 Americans with a mortgage – about 11 million – are underwater, according to CoreLogic, a real estate data firm. Roughly 1 million homeowners have refinanced through the refinancing program. Government officials had estimated it would help 4 million to 5 million homeowners.

About half of all U.S. mortgages – about 30 million home loans – are owned by non-government lenders.

A task force on mortgage misdeeds

President Obama also announced the creation of a task force aimed at investigating the shoddy mortgage-lending practices that contributed to the financial collapse of 2008 and the housing crisis that continues to weigh on the economy.

Obama said he has asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to create a special unit of state attorneys general and federal prosecutors to probe deeper into questionable lending practices and the way in which risky loans were packaged and sold to investors.

“This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans,” Obama said in his State of the Union speech.

The creation of the task force comes as the administration and a coalition of state attorneys general are pushing to finalize a long-awaited multibillion-dollar settlement with the nation’s largest banks over their flawed and fraudulent foreclosure practices.

The deal has drawn criticism from liberal and consumer groups as well as attorneys general from New York, Delaware and other states, who have insisted that more extensive investigations are warranted and that any settlement should not grant banks too broad a liability from future legal action.

Source: The Associated Press

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