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Obama administration sees unsettled home prices keeping market down

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Existing home sales are rising and home affordability is high, but the Obama administration believes the nation's housing market remains fragile because prices are unsettled. In its latest housing scorecard released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury Department, the administration said mortgage delinquencies in January continued to decline from record levels seen at the beginning of 2010. Although that is partly due to the foreclosure moratorium enacted across the nation following the robo-signing fiasco last fall. The administration expects the decline will be temporary as lenders revise and resubmit foreclosure paperwork this year. Although existing homes sales rose in the first month of 2011, the figure is still lower than the levels seen through much of the first half of 2010, according to the administration. "In the face of the deepest economic recession and housing crisis in decades, the Obama administration has taken unprecedented action to promote stability in the market — keeping millions of families in their homes and helping millions more to save money by refinancing. But the data clearly show that the market remains extremely fragile," said HUD Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic. "While we cannot stop every foreclosure, we know that many responsible homeowners are still fighting to make ends meet. Through the broad range of programs this administration has put in place, we can put help in reach to those homeowners as early as possible." Officials touted the federal programs established the past few years as "effective in blunting the effects of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression." More than 4.2 million mortgage modifications were started between April 2009 and the end of January, the administration said, including nearly 1.5 million HAMP trial modifications, more than 730,000 Federal Housing Administration loss mitigation and early delinquency interventions and more than 2 million modification under HOPE Now. "Our housing market remains fragile. We know this from data, but homeowners across the country can feel it too," according to acting Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Tim Massad. "That's why this administration remains committed to helping eligible homeowners avoid foreclosure where it makes economic sense to do so. Every month, HAMP continues to help tens of thousands of additional families in a cost-effective manner. And by setting affordability standards and developing a framework for how mortgage servicers provide assistance to struggling families, HAMP has established critical protections for homeowners and has catalyzed improvements in modifications industry-wide." The Treasury launched HAMP two years ago this month to provide incentives to servicers for the modification of mortgages on the verge of foreclosure. Through January, servicers started 607,607 permanent modifications, well short of the 3 million to 4 million borrowers that the administration expected the program to help. Republican congressmen have filed bills to end the program before it is set to expire at the end of 2012, and the House Financial Services Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to consider four bills that would effectively end national foreclosure prevention program. Meanwhile, an analyst of housing policy at the Congressional Research Service recently said the Treasury has doled out about 3% of the Troubled Asset Relief Program funds it set aside for HAMP. Write to Jason Philyaw.

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