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Bills ending foreclosure programs 'dead on arrival' in Senate

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Four House of Representative bills aiming to end Federal foreclosure prevention and mortgage assistance are essentially "dead on arrival," according to a source within one Senator's office. This week, the House of Representatives will likely pass bills that would terminate the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the Emergency Homeowner Loan Program, which provides interest-free loans to unemployed homeowners to help with mortgage payments. The House voted Thursday to end the Federal Housing Administration's Short Refi program, which began in September. Through it, participating lenders which include the largest banks, could offer FHA-insured loans that reduce the principal on the existing mortgage, bringing underwater borrowers to the surface. The Obama administration said Tuesday night that it would veto the bills should they reach his desk, but they may not make it that far. Still, House Republicans continue to push for these programs they say show underwhelming poor results. Arguing against the FHA Short Refi program Thursday, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said the program will not reach a large percentage of the 11 million borrowers currently underwater, as estimated by CoreLogic (CLGX). "That means that even if this program could have helped 100,000, it would have helped one out of 120," Bachus said. "Yes some government employees would say you're eligible, you win. But that isn't fair for those who don't receive help and still have to pay for it." Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) pointed out that the $8 billion is merely what the Treasury has set aside. He cited the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of the program costing $175 million. James Russell, managing director of the Collingwood Group, said Thursday the government as a whole needs to focus on how it winds itself out of the housing market while balancing the reduction of the budget gap against the "politically charged" issue of foreclosure. "The key issue to focus in this debate is how to define the federal government’s responsibility to support homeowners that are underwater on their mortgages. If it’s the government’s responsibility to protect all consumers from financial failure, there are legs to this proposal for banks to take a 10% write-down on the mortgage balances," Russell said. "Alternatively, although it may be politically correct to put the burden of loss on financial institutions, asking them to take a loss that isn’t currently on their books can affect their stability and their willingness to continue making loans. Whatever the outcome in the House, the bills will face an uphill battle at best in the Senate. "Simply ending foreclosure assistance, which has had modest results, won’t make the problem go away," Senate Banking Committee spokesman Sean Oblack told HousingWire. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter: @JonAPrior

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