More than Half of Foreclosures Triggered by Job Loss: NeighborWorks

BY: CARRIE BAY 5/28/2010 DSNEWS

According to a study released Friday by NeighborWorks America, 58 percent of homeowners who’ve received assistance through its national foreclosure counseling program reported the primary reason they were facing foreclosure was reduced or lost income.

NeighborWorks was created by Congress in 1991 as a nonprofit organization to support local communities in providing its citizens with access to homeownership and affordable rental housing. In January 2008, with the foreclosure crisis raging, Congress implemented theNational Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program and made NeighborWorks the administrator.

The organization says that over the course of the NFMCprogram, the percentage of homeowners who’ve cited wage cuts or unemployment as the primary reason they were facing foreclosure has steadily increased.

In November 2009, 54 percent of NFMC-counseled borrowers reported reduced or lost income as the main reason for default. Six months earlier in June 2009, it was 49 percent; in February 2009, 45 percent; and in October 2008, 41 percent.

These steady increases parallel the nation’s unemployment rate, which until the November 2009 employment report, had marched upward since October 2008.

“With unemployment numbers not likely to dip below nine percent in 2010, our report proves what many already believed to be true. Unemployment and reduced income are having a devastating effect on our nation’s homeowners,” said Ken Wade, CEO of NeighborWorks America.

The administration recently announced changes to its Making Home Affordable program to provide assistance to unemployed homeowners by temporarily reducing or suspending mortgage payments for a minimum of three months. The initiative becomes effective July 1, 2010.

The federal government has also awarded additional funding to states where unemployment is high to support localized mortgage relief programs for homeowners who are out of work.

Lawmakers too are on a push to help homeowners who’ve lost their jobs. Congress’ financial reform package includes a measure that uses $3 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) fund to make loans of up to $50,000 to unemployed homeowners to be used to make their mortgage payments for up to 24 months while they are looking for a new job.

Wade said, “While Congress and state governments have stepped up and extended unemployment benefits to help families survive this tough economic climate, it’s time for mortgage servicers and investors to make meaningful accommodations for homeowners facing foreclosure. If they don’t, we’ll see even more empty houses and devastated neighborhoods in our communities.”

NeighborWorks also noted in its report that 62 percent of all NFMC clients held a fixed-rate mortgage, and 49 percent were paying on a fixed-rate mortgage with an interest rate below 8 percent.

Nearly one million families have received foreclosure counseling as a result of NFMC Program funding. According to NeighborWorks, NFMC clients are 60 percent more likely to avoid foreclosure than homeowners who do not receive foreclosure counseling.

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Obama administration to order lenders to cut mortgage payments for jobless

Obama readies steps to fight foreclosures, particularly for unemployed

By Renae Merle and Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 2010

The Obama administration plans to overhaul how it is tackling the foreclosure crisis, in part by requiring lenders to temporarily slash or eliminate monthly mortgage payments for many borrowers who are unemployed, senior officials said Thursday.

At a House oversight committee hearing, keys represent foreclosed homes. The administration is planning new steps to fight foreclosures.

At a House oversight committee hearing, keys represent foreclosed homes. The administration is planning new steps to fight foreclosures. (Brendan Hoffman/bloomberg News)

Banks and other lenders would have to reduce the payments to no more than 31 percent of a borrower’s income, which would typically be the amount of unemployment insurance, for three to six months. In some cases, administration officials said, a lender could allow a borrower to skip payments altogether.

The new push, which the White House is scheduled to announce Friday, takes direct aim at the major cause of the current wave of foreclosures: the spike in unemployment. While the initial mortgage crisis that erupted three years ago resulted from millions of risky home loans that went bad, more-recent defaults reflect the country’s economic downturn and the inability of jobless borrowers to keep paying.

The administration’s new push also seeks to more aggressively help borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth, offering financial incentives for the first time to lenders to cut the loan balances of such distressed homeowners. Those who are still current on their mortgages could get the chance to refinance on better terms into loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.

The problem of “underwater” borrowers has bedeviled earlier administration efforts to address the mortgage crisis as home prices plunged.

Officials said the new initiatives will take effect over the next six months and be funded out of $50 billion previously allocated for foreclosure relief in the emergency bailout program for the financial system. No new taxpayer funds will be needed, the officials said.

The measures have been in the works for weeks, but President Obama is finally to release the details days after his watershed victory on health-care legislation. Following that bruising battle on Capitol Hill, his administration is now welcoming a chance to change the subject and turn its attention to the economy and, in particular, the plight of the unemployed — concerns that are paramount for many Americans.

The administration has been facing increasing pressure from lawmakers and housing advocates to overhaul its foreclosure prevention efforts. So far, fewer than 200,000 borrowers have received permanent loan modifications under its $75 billion marquee program, known as Making Home Affordable. In the meantime, there is a growing backlog of distressed borrowers awaiting help from their lenders, which threatens to undercut efforts to stabilize the housing market.

Challenges unmet

Assistant Treasury Secretary Herbert M. Allison Jr. told a House panel Thursday that “we did not fully envision the challenges that we would encounter” when the earlier program was launched.

The efforts have been hampered by the difficulty of helping unemployed homeowners, who struggled to qualify for the government’s mortgage relief plan. In requiring temporary relief for jobless borrowers, known as forbearance, officials are hoping to give them time to find a new job. Some will still need more assistance after the six-month period while others will ultimately lose their homes, administration officials said.

“We certainly support a forbearance opportunity for unemployed borrowers,” said John A. Courson, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association. He said he had not seen full details of the program.

Four measures

In addition to mortgage relief for unemployed borrowers, the program features four other key elements, including several steps to address the growing population of borrowers who owe significantly more than their home is worth, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not been made. Underwater borrowers now make up about a quarter of all homeowners, according to First American CoreLogic. Economists consider these homeowners at higher risk of default because they cannot sell or refinance their home when they run into financial troubles.

The first key element is that the government will provide financial incentives to lenders that cut the balance of a borrower’s mortgage. Banks and other lenders will be asked to reduce the principal owed on a loan if the amount is 15 percent more than their home is worth. The reduced amount would be set aside and forgiven by the lender over three years, as long as the homeowner remained current on the loan.

Until recently, administration officials had been reluctant to encourage lenders to cut the principal balance, worrying that this would encourage borrowers to become delinquent. But as federal regulators have struggled to make an impact on the foreclosure crisis, those qualms have weakened.

“We would prefer to see a required principal forgiveness program. But this is helpful,” said David Berenbaum, chief program officer for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit housing group. “This is another tool that will help consumers weather the crisis.”

Second, the government will double the amount it pays to lenders that help modify second mortgages, such as piggyback loans, which enabled home buyers to put little or no money down, and home equity lines of credit.

These second mortgages are an added burden on struggling homeowners, especially when their total debt, as a result, is greater than their home value.

Federal officials have estimated that about half of all troubled homeowners have a second mortgage and last year launched a program to encourage lenders to restructure them. That effort has struggled to get off the ground.

Third, the new effort also increases the incentives paid to those lenders that find a way to avoid foreclosing on delinquent borrowers even if they can’t qualify for mortgage relief. For example, the administration is scheduled to launch a program next month encouraging lenders to have borrowers sell their homes for less than the mortgage balance in what is known as a short sale.

Fourth, the administration is increasingly turning to the Federal Housing Administration to help underwater borrowers who are still keeping up their payments. The aim is to help these borrowers refinance into a more affordable loan. The FHA will offer incentives to lenders that reduce the amount borrowers owe on their primary mortgages by at least 10 percent.

For those borrowers who have more than one mortgage on their house, the FHA will allow refinancing of the first loan only. The new loan and any second mortgage could not exceed 15 percent of the home’s value. This approach is meant to benefit not only borrowers but also lenders by allowing them to offload mortgages that might otherwise fail.

Only homeowners who are refinancing their main residence, have a credit score above 500 and can document their income are eligible.

Administration official say this refinancing program should not strain the FHA’s already weakened finances because the effort will be financed with up to $14 billion out of the federal bailout program.

Tim Geithner warns of high unemployment throughout the year

I guess this is where the next 5-7 million forecast of foreclosures makes sense.

Obama Aides See Jobless Rate Elevated for ‘Extended Period’
By Rebecca Christie and Mike Dorning

March 16 (Bloomberg) — U.S. employers won’t hire enough workers this year to lower the jobless rate much below the level of 9.7 percent reached in February, three Obama administration economic officials said today.

The proportion of Americans who can’t find work is likely to “remain elevated for an extended period,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, White House budget director Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a joint statement. The officials said unemployment may even rise “slightly” over the next few months as discouraged workers start job-hunting again.

“We do not expect further declines in unemployment this year,” the officials said in testimony prepared for the House Appropriations Committee. They predicted the economy would add about 100,000 jobs a month on average — not enough to bring the jobless rate down substantially.

Today’s projections are in line with the 10 percent average unemployment forecast for this year in last month’s budget plan. Christopher Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York, said the administration’s language risks damping expectations for a recovery.

“They need to work on the message, and right now the message is that there is not a lot to be hopeful about,” Rupkey said. “Warning about a slow jobless recovery can help make it a reality.”

Growth Outlook

Geithner, Orszag and Romer reiterated the administration’s forecast that the economy would grow 3 percent this year, as measured by comparing fourth quarter growth in gross domestic product. Growth is projected to rise to 4.3 percent in 2011 and 2012, and inflation probably will remain low, they said.

“The worst now appears to be behind us,” the officials said. “However, the country faces significant and ongoing challenges: high unemployment, the need to build a new and stable foundation for prosperity in the years and decades ahead, and a medium- and long-term fiscal situation that could ultimately undermine future job creation and economic growth.”

The three urged Congress to pass Obama Administration job stimulus proposals including extended unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments and tax breaks for businesses that hire new workers.

They argued tax benefits for businesses that add new workers would have a large impact in the early stages of an economic recovery.

‘Particularly Effective’

“The current situation — where for many firms the question is not whether to hire but when — is one that may make such programs particularly effective,” they said.

The officials said projected federal budget deficits, which the administration forecasts at more than $1.5 trillion for 2011 and over $751 billion for 2015, “remain undesirably high.”

“Deficits matter. Ours are too high; they are unsustainable,” Geithner said during testimony. “The American people, along with investors around the world, need to have more confidence in our ability to bring them down over time.”

The officials put the greatest blame for the high budget deficits on “years of poor decisions” during the administration of George W. Bush, citing enactment of the Medicare prescription drug benefit and income-tax cuts without corresponding budget savings to pay for them.

“If these two policies had been paid for, projected deficits — without any further deficit reduction — would be about 2 percent of GDP per year by the middle of the decade, and we would have been on a sustainable medium-term fiscal course,” they said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Christie in Washington at rchristie4@bloomberg.net; To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net;

Last Updated: March 16, 2010 11:37 EDT