President Barack Obama called Wednesday for a new homeowner refinance program that would lift restrictions on refinancing for more borrowers, representing another government effort to aid the ailing housing market.
It is wrong for anybody to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom, said Obama during a speech in Virginia, indirectly referencing remarks by Mitt Romney, his likely opponent in the upcoming presidential election.
Obama expanded on last week's State of the Union speech, detailing a new program that would cost $5 billion to $10 billion.
The program would be open to millions of homeowners who are current on their mortgage, have a credit score of at least 580 and have a loan amount that conforms to local Federal Housing Administration (FHA) levels, which range from $271,050 to $729,750 depending on region.
Borrowers with homes that have declined to values below their loan balances would also be eligible. Only owner-occupied primary residences would qualify.
Homeowners would save an estimated $3,000 per year and would be able to take advantage of historically low interest rates, said Obama.
Previous housing efforts such as the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) covered loans backed by the government-controlled entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but not the FHA, which will oversee the new program. Obama acknowledged that previous efforts have fallen short.
I'll be honest -- the programs that we put forward haven't worked at the scale that we hoped, said Obama during the speech. Not as many people have taken advantage of it as we wanted.
The new housing plan, which would be financed by a small fee on major banks, needs approval from Congress and is expected to face strong Republican opposition.
We've done this at least four times, where there's some new government program to help homeowners who have trouble with their mortgages. None of these programs have worked. I don't know why anyone would think this next idea is going to work, House Speaker John Boeehner said on Wednesday, according to The Hill.
In addition to the refinance program, Obama called for a Homeowner Bill of Rights to require disclosure of loan agreements, fees and penalties, as well as preventing conflict of interest and creating a right to appeal foreclosures.
Separately, the government is also beginning a pilot program of selling foreclosed properties to be converted into rental housing, increasing mortgage forbearance for unemployed borrowers up to 12 months and opening investigations into mortgage lending abuses.