Last year, we were less than impressed with Bush’s tightly bounded but widely touted plan to use the FHA, a traditional source of financing to low and middle income borrowers, to help salvage homeowners at risk of begin dispossessed. Note we have doubts about “rescue debtor” operations. Iin many cases, these borrowers had little to no equity in their home, which begs the question of why it is so awful for them to lose their home. Indignity, yes, tragedy, no.
But a cynical plan to do nothing while pretending to offer relief is even worse than standing pat. It gives homeowners and possibly mortgage investors false hope and forestalls discussion of the tough choices that need to be made (the residential housing market is simply too large for the Feds to rescue), But then again, if your aim is merely to leave this problem in the lap of the incoming regime, a Potemkin program like this is exactly the sort of thing you want.
Better yet, the FHA program appears to be falling well short of its modest goals. The Bushies said it would aid 80,000 delinquent borrowers in 2008. So far this year, the total in that category getting help in 2,000.
From the New York Times:
Fewer than 2,000 homeowners at risk of foreclosure have been helped by a Federal Housing Administration program that President Bush promised would help homeowners who had fallen behind on their mortgage payments, federal housing statistics show.
F.H.A. officials have asserted in recent weeks that more than 150,000 people have benefited from the program, which was intended to help troubled homeowners refinance into stable, government-issued loans. But the vast majority of participants have been homeowners who have made their mortgage payments on time, not the borrowers in crisis who were the targets of the president’s plan, the statistics show…..
More than 400,000 mortgages will be refinanced through F.H.A. Secure this year, officials say. Of those, only about 4,000 will be held by homeowners who have fallen behind on their payments, the statistics show.
“F.H.A. Secure, while a good idea, is not addressing the magnitude of the problem,” Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who is the chairman of the Banking Committee, said at a hearing this month. He is calling for legislation that would help many more troubled borrowers.
Scott Stern of Lenders One, an alliance of mortgage bankers based in St. Louis, called the program’s record with the neediest homeowners “a tragedy.”
“F.H.A. is helping borrowers who aren’t currently in trouble and that is fine,” Mr. Stern said. “But there is a specific subset of borrowers right now who are in trouble. The program needs to be helping people who need the help immediately.”
Housing officials say they have worked hard to reach such borrowers. In August, the program was tailored toward low-income homeowners who were falling behind because of interest rate increases on their adjustable-rate mortgages. The officials say that interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve reduced the number of such people….
The F.H.A. still requires borrowers hoping to refinance to have made 10 on-time payments in the 12 months before they went into default. That will block many borrowers, said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which helps people in underserved communities get credit.