Congress Plans to Move Fast on Homeowner Relief

According to the New York Times, Congress is suddenly keen to get a homeowner bailout program in place, and made a rare bipartisan show of a joint news conference, with the hope of tabling the bill as soon as noon Wednesday.

Key elements:

At a minimum, the bipartisan package was expected to include up to $200 million to expand counseling programs for homeowners at risk of foreclosure, $10 billion in tax-exempt bonds for local housing authorities to refinance subprime loans, $4 billion in grants for local governments to buy foreclosed properties and a $15,000 tax credit for purchasers of foreclosed homes or newly built homes that have been sitting vacant…..

Both the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee have been working on bills that would allow the Federal Housing Administration to insure $300 billion to $400 billion in additional mortgages, with an upfront cost of $10 billion.

As the Times notes, despite the big numbers being thrown about, it isn’t at all clear how many will be helped. First, any plan would have tough approval requirements and require borrowers to demonstrate the ability to repay. Second, the servicers would have to write down mortgage balances voluntarily and then the loan could be refinanced through the FHA (although the Democrats are trying to revive proposed changes to the bankruptcy laws that would allow judges to write down mortgages to the value of the collateral).

Moreover, even die-hard liberals are voicing reservations:

Critics warn that taxpayers could get stuck with a huge bill if large numbers of borrowers defaulted yet again.

That risk is especially great in places like Las Vegas and Phoenix, where home prices are falling fast, said Dean Baker, the co-director at the Center for Economic Policy Research.

“In the bubble-inflated markets, you still have a long way to go down. That’s one of the things that I don’t think people have fully appreciated,” he said.

What got us in this mess in the first place is that America has the most heavily subsidized housing market in the world. Is more of the same a wise solution?

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  1. Anonymous

    Kind of Ot:

    Hey, if Dodd is in control of Paulson and helicopter ben, then why is he not in control of PPT??

    The United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs has jurisdiction over matters related to: banks and banking, price controls, deposit insurance, export promotion and controls, federal monetary policy, financial aid to commerce and industry, issuance of redemption of notes, currency and coinage, public and private housing, urban development and mass transit, and government contracts.

    2. The Group was established explicitly in response to events in the financial markets surrounding October 19, 1987 (“Black Monday”) to give recommendations for legislative and private sector solutions for “enhancing the integrity, efficiency, orderliness, and competitiveness of [United States] financial markets and maintaining investor confidence”.[1]

    As established by Executive Order 12631, the Working Group consists of:

    * The Secretary of the Treasury, or his designee (as Chairman of the Working Group);
    * The Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, or his designee;
    * The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or his designee; and
    * The Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or her designee.

  2. Jim Driscoll

    Why not call it what it actually is:

    A bank speculator bail out.

    Oh, and anti-affordability measures for housing.

    But it doesn’t matter – $10 billion is nothing, not even a drop in the bucket.

  3. Mark D

    Free counseling, $15,000 tax credit. Cool. Let’s hope they move this through so I can use my $600 welfare check that they promised me, as a down payment on one of them foreclosed homes. Hopefully I can flip it.
    I think it’s time to pack up and find another country. No saving this one.

  4. Anonymous

    What I worry about, what I hope Dodd worries about, is the fact that someone in new hampshire that did a fine job of managing a mortgage, ends up paying for, i.e, bailing out a retarded speculator in Vegas. There has to be accountability for individuals and banks that were stupid, retarded and thinking that a mortgage was a casino chip! Many of us out here dont gamble, smoke, do crack, drink hard booze, use prostitutes, get tattoos, live beyond our means, etc….

    So why, should we have to bail out banks and individuals that were stupid?

    I think Paulson should exchange his $700 million for Treasury MBS and see how it feels to hold an empty bag!

  5. TallIndian

    Anon 2:34

    Bush/Paulson/Bernacke are doing something much more worse than having taxpayers subsidize speculators.

    They are using the profits made by those who knew BSC,LEH, etc. were run by boobs to subsidize JPM, LEH etc.

    The decision to use the Treasury to guarantee the debt and preferred stock of investment banks (the convertible by LEH is debt) destroyed those who had bought protection LEH via credit default swaps, shorted their bonds or even shorted their equity.

    The Bushies acted too late (quell surprise!) in BSC and the common stock holders were decimated. They are acting to protect the common shareholders of LEH.

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