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Homeowner bailout plan criticized
(AP) — As more states and cities struggle to find money to bail out homeowners caught up in the housing downturn, some Americans are wondering why governments should be rewarding people for greed or irresponsibility.
Some, such as Thomas Roach of Sarasota, Fla., are actively campaigning against a bailout for people who, using easy credit and exotic mortgages, bought more home than they could afford on a bet they would make easy profits from rising real estate prices.
Even before President Bush put forth his proposals last month to help troubled homeowners, Mr. Roach, a 30-year-old information technology specialist for a financial firm, had posted an online petition called Tax Payers Against a Wall Street and Mortgage Bailout. It has collected nearly 3,800 signatures in two weeks.
“What the government doesn’t realize is that these people knew what they were getting into. They just thought that these housing prices were going to keep going up and up,” Mr. Roach said. “A bailout sets such a bad precedent. You’re encouraging bad behavior.”
Mr. Roach is one of many questioning the government’s role in repairing the mortgage mess even as various federal and local plans try to stave off a potential deluge of foreclosures. Some states and counties are using bond sales or fees collected from late payment of property taxes to help homeowners refinance into traditional fixed-rate loans; the federal government is considering giving money to agencies that counsel delinquent borrowers.
Most of the troubles in the mortgage market are the result of adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, which often feature very low introductory interest rates. Once the rate adjusts after two or three years, many homeowners can’t meet their monthly payments.
Nearly 2 million homeowners have ARMs that will adjust higher by the end of 2008. Of those, the Federal Housing Administration estimates 500,000 could go into foreclosure.
On Aug. 31, Mr. Bush offered a set of modest plans, including proposals to make it easier to refinance ARMS through the FHA and to temporarily relieve homeowners of taxes on forgiven mortgage debt.
Congress is set to vote this month on funding for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, which includes $100 million earmarked for nonprofit housing groups to help homeowners refinance.
Some state and local governments already have stepped in with more comprehensive efforts.
In July, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency introduced a loan program that helps homeowners switch to traditional 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at lower interest rates. The housing agency will buy the loans from lenders, financed by selling municipal bonds in blocks of $25 million, said Brian Hudson, executive director of the housing agency.
Also in July, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the state’s agency for affordable housing announced plans to curb rising foreclosures by raising cash through bond sales. The bonds will cover a portion of a $250 million fund to help struggling borrowers refinance.
The bulk of the fund is provided by Fannie Mae, the federally sponsored buyer of home mortgages, which has an interest in avoiding foreclosures, as do all the companies that securitized these loans.
Cuyahoga County in Ohio — home to Cleveland, one of the hardest-hit foreclosure areas in the country — is using $3 million in penalties accrued from fees for late payment of property taxes to make loans to help homeowners catch up on their mortgages. The county also has formed a task force, made up of representatives from government, the lending industry and nonprofit consumer groups, to look at ways to reduce the foreclosure rate in the state.
Other state and local governments are considering similar measures to prevent foreclosures, but many of the proposals still are in the planning stages.
By Tom Fitton
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