From – The Hill
Reducing mortgage principal on government-owned mortgages would cost $100 billion, making it an unlikely option, a federal housing regulator said Monday.
In response to a request from lawmakers, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) acting director Edward DeMarco released an analysis by his agency saying that the costs would come on top of continued losses of mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, according to three separate staff analyses prepared over the past year.
“Given that any money spent on this endeavor would ultimately come from taxpayers and given that our analysis does not indicate a preservation of assets for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac substantial enough to offset costs, an expenditure of this nature at this time would, in my judgment, require congressional action,” DeMarco said in the letter sent to House Democrats.
Reps. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and panel member John Tierney (Mass.) spearheaded a letter sent Wednesday to Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asking him to issue a subpoena for the FHFA analysis on the viability of principal reductions.
The FHFA analysis showed that Fannie and Freddie, as of June 30, had nearly 3 million mortgages with outstanding balances estimated to be greater than the value of the home, and that principal forgiveness for all the loans would require funding of almost $100 billion.
“FHFA remains committed to assisting homeowners to stay in their homes and will continue to update and improve our analysis,” DeMarco wrote.
“FHFA would reconsider its conclusions if other funds become available and if the availability of other funds is at a level that would change the analysis to indicate potential savings to the taxpayers.”
Another factor to consider is that nearly 80 percent of those underwater borrowers were current on their mortgages as of that time and those with upward of market loan-to-value ratios above 115 percent, 74 percent are current.
As of June 2011, only 9.9 percent have negative equity in their homes while about 35.5 percent of private-label mortgages were underwater, according to the report.
Overall, forebearance offers greater cash flows to the investor than forgiveness, while achieving marginally lower losses for the taxpayer than forgiveness, “although both forgiveness and forbearance reduce the borrower’s payment to the same affordable level,” the report showed.
Fannie and Freddie recently announced they would offer up to 12 months of forbearance to unemployed homeowners.
On the eve of President Obama’s third State of the Union address, lawmakers expect the president to discuss the housing crisis and possibly suggest additional initiatives to help struggling homeowners, although they weren’t aware of specifics.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a harsh critic of the Obama administration’s housing policy, called on the White House on Monday to include in this year’s agenda his mortgage refinancing proposal.
“Simply put, none of the current housing programs that President Obama has instituted have succeeded in stemming the tide of foreclosures still dragging down our country,” Cardoza said.
“People continue to suffer as their communities are devastated by the housing crisis, with no relief in sight,” he said.
“We need bold leadership from the president on this crisis.”
DeMarco said the agency would continue to focus on improving loss mitigation and foreclosure alternatives. Borrowers who remain current on their loan payments can look into the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which allows all underwater borrowers to refinance into lower interest rate mortgages.
Additionally, there would be associated costs to upgrade technology, provide guidance and training to servicers and change accounting and tracking systems in order to implement a principal forgiveness program, the analysis showed.
“Unless there is an expectation that principal forgiveness will reduce losses, we cannot just the expense of investing in major systems upgrades,” DeMarco said.
For more information please see FHFA report: Mortgage principal reductions would cost $100 billion at The Hill.