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131 lawmakers push for higher GSE jumbo mortgage limits

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A group of 131 members of Congress sent a letter to House leaders this week, pressing for a restoration of higher limits for mortgages guaranteed by the government. Congress elevated the conforming loan limits in 2008 to allow the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac to insure and guarantee more mortgages when the credit markets froze. On Oct. 1, the elevated limits dropped to $625,500 from $729,750 in the most expensive neighborhoods. In each area, the cap dropped to 115% from 125% of the area's median home price. Previous legislation introduced in the House to extend the limits never made it out of committee. But the Senate approved an amendment to a spending bill Oct. 20 that would extend the conforming loan limits through 2013. A joint appropriations committee is scheduled to begin meeting this week and will consider the spending bill. "Forcing this transition in a weak market, before the private market has shown the willingness to take on additional mortgage risk is not wise policy during a housing crisis," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), echoing calls for restoring from major trade groups from the mortgage and real estate industries. The Obama administration and top House Republicans have supported allowing the conforming loan limits to expire as the first step to getting private capital back into the market. The effect of the conforming loan limit drop remains in question. A study from the Federal Reserve shows a very small effect from the drop, while a separate study from the National Association of Homebuilders claims millions of homebuyers could be shut out of financing. But in their letter to Speak of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the group of lawmakers said there is no evidence of that happening. "Many of us have hoped that private lenders would be ready to return to the housing markets and enable us to reduce the federal role, but this has not yet happened," the letter reads. "The reluctance of private lenders to lend coupled with the lower current limits will adversely impact the housing market." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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