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House votes to end HAMP

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The House of Representatives voted Tuesday 252-170 to terminate the Home Affordable Modification Program roughly two years early. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) introduced H.R. 839 as part of a wide effort by Republicans to shut down programs designed by the Obama administration to aid borrowers and localities in the middle of a foreclosure crisis. The Treasury set aside $30 billion for HAMP but has spent roughly $1.2 billion so far. The House already voted to cut the last $1 billion from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the yet-to-begin $1 billion Emergency Homeowner Loan Program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the recently started Federal Housing Administration Short Refi program. But the Obama administration reiterated its threat to veto the HAMP-termination bill late Monday. And the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass the legislation. Servicers participating in HAMP have started 600,000 permanent modifications since the program launched in March 2009, but at its current pace the program will not reach the 3 million to 4 million originally estimated. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said HAMP has caused more harm than good, and that taxpayers should no longer fund bailouts for the banks through a program that promotes strategic default. "We should not waste taxpayer dollars on failed government programs that do not work and actually make things worse for struggling homeowners," Bachus said. "These programs may have been well-intentioned, but they’re doing more harm than good." House Democrats sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner Monday night outlining changes to HAMP they would like to see, most notably fines for underperforming servicers. On Tuesday, the Treasury said it would begin grading the top servicers in the program. "I certainly believe that HAMP can be improved – and I call on the administration to make immediate improvements – but the legislation before us today makes no effort to strengthen this program," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said. "Instead, it simply abandons families on the brink of losing their homes, it harms investors, and it threatens our nation’s entire economic recovery." Acting Treasury Secretary Tim Massad denounced ending the program in a statement released Tuesday night. "This program has helped hundreds of thousands of families across the country avoid foreclosure, and each month it continues to help tens of thousands of additional homeowners. Moreover, it has helped establish better standards for the mortgage industry that have resulted in millions more being able to stay in their homes," Massad said. "If we end this program now, we will simply make it harder to prevent unnecessary foreclosures and for our country to recover from this housing crisis." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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