Tag Archives: F.H.A.

Who is Still Against Federal Foreclosure Legislation?

As the Congress comes closer to passing legislation to help homeowners facing foreclosure, it is worth taking a look at the opposition to federal foreclosure aid.

Of course, there are those who strictly oppose nearly all forms of government intervention in the economy.  Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul and his free market libertarian supporters would be among this group.

Then are those who are opposed to market interventions in general, but will support some government interventions when the stability of the market is at stake.  Most Republicans fit into this group — including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

That’s why it was significant that it was Bernanke who last week made the most convincing argument from a free market perspective for federal aid to homeowners facing foreclosure.

As we noted in an earlier post, Bernanke told an audience at the Columbia Business School that the foreclosure crisis posed the clear and present danger of wreaking economic havoc far beyond the housing market. “High rates of delinquency and foreclosure,” Bernanke said, “can have substantial spillover effects on the housing market, the financial markets, and the broader economy.”

What is at stake, according to Bernanke, is not merely the homes and financial well-being of hundreds of thousands of borrowers, but “the stability of the financial system.”  In this extreme circumstance, even staunch free market advocates, such as Bernanke himself, recognize the need for the government to intervene in the market.

We think, then, that the overwhelming vote in the House of Representives in favor of government intervention to stop the rising tide of foreclosures — legislation that now has the support of many free market Republicans — was rooted at least as much in the economic reality of averting catastrophe as the political expediency of government largess in an election year.

Who then is still opposed to foreclosure aid?

The answer is the apartment owners.

Behind any legislative process is a power struggle of conflicting interests, and very often these interests are economic.  In the case of foreclosure aid, there this now a growing consensus that the foreclosure crisis threatens not merely the borrowers and the lenders, but the economy as a whole and hence the economic interests of almost every sector of the economy.

Except apartment owners.

The National Multi-Housing Council (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) have consistently argued that the blame for the foreclosure crisis is what they have called the “misguided” national policy of “home ownership at any cost” and that “People were enticed into houses they could not afford and the rarely spoken truth that there is such a thing as too much homeownership was forgotten.”

The fact is that in sharp contrast to other sectors of the real estate market, the apartment industry has not suffered as a result of the current housing crisis.  Rather, as we’ve noted before, the real estate crisis is forcing the lower end of the single-family housing market back into multi-family rental apartments.  People have to live somewhere — if they can’t afford to live in a house that they own, they will be forced to live in a house that someone else owns, such as multi-family apartment units. As homeowners suffer, apartment owners benefit.

The apartment industry has some very powerful supporters in Congress, including Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.   Senator Shelby,  who has opposed federal intervention to stop foreclosures, has made millions as a landlord and is the owner of a 124-unit apartment complex in Tuscaloosa called the Yorktown Commons. 

“I want the market to work if it can, and most of the time it will, but not without some pain,”  Senator Shelby has said.

This time, the pain appears to be too great, too wide-spread, and too dangerous, for most other members of Congress, as well as most important players in the economy, to allow it to continue unabated.

Indeed, Shelby has already signaled that he would support a version of the legislation — and that the White House would sign the bill into law.

“I think if we reach a compromise,” Shelby said, “it would be acceptable to the White House because, as a Republican and former chairman of the committee, I’m going to do everything I can, work with the administration, to make sure that the program works for those it’s intended to do and make sure we can afford it as a nation.”

In this crisis, even Senator Shelby has other, larger, and more important economic interests at stake than helping the apartment industry.

 

 

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Fed Chair Bernanke Warns Foreclosures Could Sink US Economy — Is He Threatening Lenders?

In a speech today at the Columbia Business School, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke issued his strongest warning to date about the danger of the rising tide of home foreclosures sinking the US economy.

“High rates of delinquency and foreclosure,” Bernanke said, “can have substantial spillover effects on the housing market, the financial markets, and the broader economy.”

Bernanke began by detailing some of the nasty numbers of the foreclosure crisis:

  • About one quarter of subprime adjustable-rate mortgages are currently 90 days or more delinquent or in foreclosure.
  • Foreclosure proceedings were initiated on some 1.5 million U.S. homes during 2007, up 53 percent from 2006.
  • The rate of foreclosure starts is likely to be even higher in 2008.
  • Delinquency rates have increased in the prime and near-prime segments of the mortgage market.

He then warned that the catastrophic effects of these millions of foreclosure proceedings will extend far beyond the parties to the mortgage:

“It is important to recognize,” Bernanke said, “that the costs of foreclosure may extend well beyond those borne directly by the borrower and the lender.  Clusters of foreclosures can destabilize communities, reduce the property values of nearby homes, and lower municipal tax revenues.  At both the local and national levels, foreclosures add to the stock of homes for sale, increasing downward pressure on home prices in general.” 

“In the current environment, more-rapid declines in house prices may have an adverse impact on the broader economy and, through their effects on the valuation of mortgage-related assets, on the stability of the financial system.”

The real threat that the foreclosure crisis posed to the overall economy, Bernanke said, was “the declines in home values, which reduce homeowners’ equity and may consequently affect their ability or incentive to make the financial sacrifices necessary to stay in their homes.”

The responses to the foreclosure crisis specifically endorsed by Bernanke were nothing new —  working with community groups trying to acquire and restore vacant properties; encouraging lenders and mortgage servicers to work with at-risk borrowers; developing new lending standards to prevent abusive lending practices; working with the Bush administration’s Hope Now Alliance; expanding the use of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to address problems in mortgage markets.

But we think that the tone and perspective of his speech signaled that he was far more ready than the current administration to endorse a wide-ranging federal program to aid homeowners who are in default.

Bernanke came close to saying as much:  “Realistic public and private-sector policies must take into account the fact that traditional foreclosure avoidance strategies may not always work well in the current environment.”

We think by “traditional foreclosure avoidance strategies” Bernanke meant voluntary procedures undertaken by the financial market itself; the “non-traditional foreclosure avoidance strategies” that Bernanke suggested might be necessary would then be mandatory procedures imposed on the market.

We therefore think that Bernanke’s speech contained a threat to the very financial institutions that the Fed has been so generous toward for the past six months.

So far, lenders have been asked to voluntarily help stem the foreclosure crisis by working with homeowners.  Now it appears that Bernanke may be close to supporting mandatory restraints on foreclosures.

We think Bernanke may have been saying this to the lenders and the leaders of the financial market: “We’ve made billions of cheap dollars available to you, so that you could stay afloat and so that you could make this money available for new borrowing and refinancing to prevent foreclosures.  You have not kept your end of the bargain.  If you don’t move much further along this path soon,  it is in the interest of the US economy overall to force you to do so.”

The lenders and financial institutions haven’t listened to threats from Congressional Democrats like Barney Frank or taken the voluntary actions requested by the Bush administration.

Maybe they’ll listen to today’s warning by Ben Bernanke.

We think they’d better.

 

 

California Real Estate Continues Free Fall in Sales and Prices. Realtors Blame Credit Market. KB Home Hit Hard.

California real estate continues to free fall. 

In the latest seismic shock to hit California’s real estate market, the California Association of Realtors (CAR) reported that home sales in the Golden State decreased 28.5 percent in February compared with the same period a year ago, while the median price of an existing home fell 26.2  percent. 

Median home prices fell 27.2 percent from last year’s levels in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, 30.9 percent in Sacramento, and 39.1 percent in Santa Barbara County.

The California home price meltdown is more than three times as severe as the national decline of 8.2 percent in median prices reported this week by the National Association of Realtors.  Nationally, prices fell over the past year at a rate of $338 per week, while in California, prices fell at a rate of $2,788 per week.

According to the CAR, “The median sales price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during February 2008 was $409,240, a 26.2 percent decrease from the revised $554,280 median for February 2007.”

The February 2008 median price fell 4.8  percent compared with January’s revised $429,790 median price.

CAR attributed the continuing servere declines to the tight credit market.

“Although sales rose for the fourth straight month in February by 9.5 percent compared to the previous month, they continue to be dragged down by the ongoing effects of both the credit/liquidity crunch and tighter underwriting standards that have reduced the pool of qualified buyers who can obtain a loan,” CAR President William E. Brown said. 

CAR also called for legislative action to increase FHA loan limits, reduce FHA downpayment requirements, and include condominiums.

According to Brown, “It is crucial that FHA reform legislation currently under consideration by congress include higher loan limits for high-cost states like California,” he said. “The proposed legislation also includes a reduction in the down payment requirement for FHA loans and will include condominiums in the FHA single-family program, which will make it easier for buyers in the condominium market to qualify for loans.”

CAR’s Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young said that the Fed’s recent action to reduce the federal funds rate “will have little near-term direct effect on the housing market.”

Adding to California’s real estate woes, Los Angeles-based KB Home, one of the nation’s biggest residential homebuilders and a major player in the California real estate industry, announced today that it posted a loss of more than $268 million in its first quarter as weak home sales amid a worsening housing market forced the company to take a large write-down related to falling home prices.

Its shares fell almost 4 percent in midday trading.

The average selling price of KB’s homes dropped 7 percent to $248,200 during the quarter, with homes in the West Coast posting the sharpest drop, falling to $392,600 from $470,400 a year earlier. 

”Until prices stabilize and consumer confidence returns, we believe inventory levels will remain significantly out of balance with demand,” Jeffrey Mezger, KB Home’s president and CEO said. ”We do not anticipate meaningful improvement in these conditions in the near term, as it is likely to take some time for the market to absorb the current excess housing supply and for consumer confidence to improve.”

The Government Offers Kind Words and Bandages

When we reported on Thursday on the continuing rise in foreclosures and the downward slide in homeowner equity, we concluded that “The political pressure on the States and the federal government to take sweeping and even desparate actions will also continue to mount, especially because this is a presidential election year.”

On Friday, The New York Times echoed our assessment, saying that “The [recent foreclosure] figures are expected to increase pressure on policy makers and the mortgage industry to move faster to contain losses and help homeowners. In recent days, regulators and lawmakers have begun suggesting that the federal government might need to take a bigger role in the mortgage business.”

While Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke repeated his call for lenders to voluntarily reduce the principal on delinquent loans to adjust them for the drop in home prices, far more more forceful action was propsed by the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who will introduce legislation that would require the refinancing of hundreds of thousands of mortgages, with the F.H.A. providing new loan insurance.

Our opinion is that the most signifiant cause of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis is the underlying disarry in the credit markets. Unless and until the credit markets are better regulated and rationalized (and not necessarily by the government), all that can be hoped for is first aid, not a cure.

Of course, if you’re bleeding badly, you’re grateful even for a kind word and a bandage.