Obama to renew push for wider mortgage refinance plan
The Obama administration will renew efforts to pass a wider refinance plan for more underwater homeowners when Congress reconvenes in September.
"The housing market is beginning to pick back up. But there are a lot of people underwater," Obama said during a press conference Monday.
Senate Democrats introduced three possible bills.
Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would expand the Home Affordable Refinance Program again for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers. Some Republicans were on board with eliminating repurchase risk for new servicers who refinanced the old loan. The bill would also remove all appraisal requirements for any loans that still require it.
Nearly 423,000 Fannie and Freddie mortgages refinanced under a partially expanded program in the first six months of 2012, more than all of last year, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
More than 53,000 home loans above 125% LTV refinanced under HARP in June, up from less than 3,000 just the month before, the FHFA said. But most of the business is driven to the largest banks, who are seeing higher profits because of the program.
A bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced in May, would allow refinancing for underwater borrowers holding mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration. It creates a $6 billion fund to insure the new loans.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced a bill that would allow Fannie and Freddie to cover the closing costs if borrowers shorten their terms under a HARP refinance. Though many borrowers are already choosing this option without the fee waivers.
In his State of the Union address, Obama proposed plans to help the more than 11.4 million borrowers refinance and save an average $3,000 a year on mortgage payments.
Such plans remain a long shot, considering staunch Republican opposition and a pressing need for both sides to agree on more pressing budgetary concerns. The so-called fiscal cliff threatens the fragile housing and economic recovery Obama alluded to.
Still, Obama said on Monday these savings would give a boost to the economy, though detractors argue the plan transfers money that would be spent by mortgage investors to the borrower.
Obama signaled the priority was for the homeowners who remained current on their mortgage throughout the recession and may have depleted savings and wealth to do so.
"That's a big deal," the president said Monday. "That $3,000 can strengthen equity in the home. Or that's $3,000 they can spend for a new computer for their kid to go back to school."