Saturday, January 2, 2010

Obama's 'Making Home Affordable' Program: False Hopes Among People Who Simply Cannot Afford Their Homes?

Well, I normally don't blog on this stuff, since it touches a personal nerve, but I've definitely got some insight, so what the heck?

From the New York Times, "U.S. Loan Effort Is Seen as Adding to Housing Woes" (via Memeorandum):
The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.

Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.

As a result, desperate homeowners have sent payments to banks in often-futile efforts to keep their homes, which some see as wasting dollars they could have saved in preparation for moving to cheaper rental residences. Some borrowers have seen their credit tarnished while falsely assuming that loan modifications involved no negative reports to credit agencies.

Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

“The choice we appear to be making is trying to modify our way out of this, which has the effect of lengthening the crisis,” said Kevin Katari, managing member of Watershed Asset Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund. “We have simply slowed the foreclosure pipeline, with people staying in houses they are ultimately not going to be able to afford anyway.”

Mr. Katari contends that banks have been using temporary loan modifications under the Obama plan as justification to avoid an honest accounting of the mortgage losses still on their books. Only after banks are forced to acknowledge losses and the real estate market absorbs a now pent-up surge of foreclosed properties will housing prices drop to levels at which enough Americans can afford to buy, he argues.

“Then the carpenters can go back to work,” Mr. Katari said. “The roofers can go back to work, and we start building housing again. If this drips out over the next few years, that whole sector of the economy isn’t going to recover.”

The Treasury Department publicly maintains that its program is on track. “The program is meeting its intended goal of providing immediate relief to homeowners across the country,” a department spokeswoman, Meg Reilly, wrote in an e-mail message.

But behind the scenes, Treasury officials appear to have concluded that growing numbers of delinquent borrowers simply lack enough income to afford their homes and must be eased out.
That sounds about right to me. But the administration's got an additional plan, "Foreclosure Alternatives Program." This is supposed to help banks eat their losses. But everybody hurts, so it doesn't help putting lipstick on this pig.

Anyway, while it's not something I've been blogging about, it's not as if I ignore this stuff. As Ace commenter Kreiz noted at the comments, these challenges "
aren't unusual." Well, that's for sure, but then again. See these stories:

First, "
My Personal Credit Crisis," from New York Times economic writer Edmund Andrews:
If there was anybody who should have avoided the mortgage catastrophe, it was I. As an economics reporter for The New York Times, I have been the paper’s chief eyes and ears on the Federal Reserve for the past six years. I watched Alan Greenspan and his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, at close range. I wrote several early-warning articles in 2004 about the spike in go-go mortgages. Before that, I had a hand in covering the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Russia meltdown in 1998 and the dot-com collapse in 2000. I know a lot about the curveballs that the economy can throw at us.

But in 2004, I joined millions of otherwise-sane Americans in what we now know was a catastrophic binge on overpriced real estate and reckless mortgages. Nobody duped or hypnotized me. Like so many others — borrowers, lenders and the Wall Street dealmakers behind them — I just thought I could beat the odds. We all had our reasons. The brokers and dealmakers were scoring huge commissions. Ordinary homebuyers were stretching to get into first houses, or bigger houses, or better neighborhoods. Some were greedy, some were desperate and some were deceived.
And some haven't been totally forthcoming. Megan McArdle, at the Altlantic, an economics writer herself, has been hammering Andrews in a series of posts. Summarized here, "'Busted' Saga Continues ... Megan McArdle Responds To NYT's Ed Andrews."

Then there's this story, which puts a different light on well-meaning folks who got little to eager to cash in on the equity boom. See, "
American Dream 2: Default, Then Rent":
Schoolteacher Shana Richey misses the playroom she decorated with Glamour Girl decals for her daughters. Fireman Jay Fernandez misses the custom putting green he installed in his backyard.

But ever since they quit paying their mortgages and walked away from their homes, they've discovered that giving up on the American dream has its benefits.

Both now live on the 3100 block of Club Rancho Drive in Palmdale, where a terrible housing market lets them rent luxurious homes -- one with a pool for the kids, the other with a golf-course view -- for a fraction of their former monthly payments.

"It's just a better life. It really is," says Ms. Richey. Before defaulting on her mortgage, she owed about $230,000 more than the home was worth.

People's increasing willingness to abandon their own piece of America illustrates a paradoxical change wrought by the housing bust: Even as it tarnishes the near-sacred image of home ownership, it might be clearing the way for an economic recovery.

Thanks to a rare confluence of factors -- mortgages that far exceed home values and bargain-basement rents -- a growing number of families are concluding that the new American dream home is a rental.

Some are leaving behind their homes and mortgages right away, while others are simply halting payments until the bank kicks them out. That's freeing up cash to use in other ways.

Ms. Richey's family of five used some of the money to buy season tickets to Disneyland, and plans to take a Carnival cruise to Mexico in March. Mr. Fernandez takes his girlfriend out to dinner more frequently. "We're saving lots of money," Ms. Richey says ....
But then check this out:
Ms. Richey, the teacher, arrived in Palmdale in 1999. In 2004, she and her husband, Timothy, bought a two-story home on Caspian Drive, near Avenue O-8, with a no-down-payment loan. They took pride in the amenities they installed: a powder room with granite countertops, a backyard pool and play area, and the purple-and-turquoise fantasy playroom upstairs for their three daughters.

But the value of the house plunged to less than $200,000 in 2009. Their $430,000 mortgage, with its $3,700 monthly payment, began to look more like an unwanted burden. By May, amid troubles getting tenants for two rental properties she also owned, Ms. Richey decided the time had come to cut a deal with America's Servicing Co., a unit of Wells Fargo & Co. servicing the mortgage on the house.

After three months of wrangling, she says she finally received a modification approval. The new monthly payment: about $3,300, far more than she had hoped. A Wells Fargo spokesman confirmed the bank offered Ms. Richey a modification under the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable program, and said, "The Richeys turned down the lowest payment we could offer."

Ms. Richey and her husband had already been working on Plan B -- exploring the neighborhood's "For Rent" signs.

On one trip, they drove by the house at 3152 Club Rancho Drive. It was bigger than their house on Caspian, had a pool with three waterfalls, and boasted a cascading staircase that Ms. Richey says she could picture her daughters descending on prom night. The rent was $2,195 a month.

The situation presented Ms. Richey with a quandary now facing more than 10 million U.S. homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

On one hand, walking away from her home would be easy. California is one of 10 states that largely prevent mortgage lenders from going after the other assets of borrowers who default. But she also had to consider the negatives. Her credit could be tarnished for years and, perhaps most importantly, she feared her friends and neighbors might ostracize her.

"It was scary," she says, noting that people tended to keep such decisions to themselves for fear of being stigmatized. "It's still very hush-hush."

Tom Sobelman, whose family of four lives across the street from Ms. Richey, at 3127 Club Rancho Drive, sees mortgages as a moral as well as financial obligation. He's still paying the mortgage on an investment property he owns nearby, despite the fact that the rent is about $1,000 a month short of covering his costs.
I think it's a moral issue too, which is why I don't like talking about my homeownership situation. I don't think taxpayers should be on the hook for decisions made by individuals. But not everyone thinks so. See the New York Times, "Homeowners Walking Away," Also, "The Art of Strategic Mortgage Defaults: The Coming Wave of Foreclosures in California. 588,000 People Nationwide Stop Paying Their Mortgage Even Though they had Funds to Pay," and "Go Ahead, Walk Away: There is Nothing Immoral About Ditching Your Mortgage."

I guess that's supposed to ease the pain for folks.

There you go, in any case. Stayed tuned ...

RELATED: From the Los Angeles Times, "
Few Troubled Mortgages Being Modified Permanently." And at Flopping Aces, "2010: A Obama/Bernanke/Geithner Housing Bubble on the Taxpayers' Dime."


Dennis said...

I have watched large numbers of people from states like New York, New Jersey, et al sell houses in their respective states and buy houses way out of their ability to pay for them here. The sad pert is that if they had attempted to stay within their ability to pay they would not have lost their homes.
Far too many other people got involved in "Flipping" house to make big money which eventually left them holding mortgages on several homes and no way to recoup their investments.
Then you add all of the individuals who were convinced by the federal government to buy homes when they did not have the wherewithal to make the payments and you have a recipe for disaster. All it took was for this group to start defaulting and it started a steep fall in the price of homes as way to many homes became avaialble.
If the federal government would just let the market find its low that would bring buyers back into the market at prices that they could afford as long as lending institutions only gave loans to those who have the means to meet those mortgages.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that my experience in the modified mortgage program through Wachovia and Wells Fargo has been the #1 NIGHTMARE of my LIFE!!!!! False Hopes. . . by the millions, harrassment from both banks and credit reporting that has negatively impacted me significantly. I will contact my senators, representatives and pursue making this public as much as possible. This has caused me tremendous financial difficulties!!! If this process is any kind of REMOTE example of what our country is about to face in healthcare reform and financial reform under the Obama circus we are in HUGE trouble!!!!! Applying for a modified mortgage is the biggest mistake of my life - bigger than divorce, childbirth and 18 months of grueling terminal illness and being a care provider for my mother in her terminal illness with cancer!!! This program is SEVERELY TOXIC - Dawn