New FHA program heralded as positive step towards easing credit crisis

BPC's Patenaude: FHA's plan is timely and promising

Earlier on Tuesday, two of the government agencies that carry significant weight in the housing industry announced plans designed to make it easier for prospective buyers to get credit to buy a home.

First, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt named maintaining credit availability as one of his main goals for the FHFA and the GSEs.

Then, the Federal Housing Administration released its own “Blueprint for Access” which outlines steps the agency is taking to make it easier to get a loan.

The plans came not a moment too soon, according to Pamela Patenaude, the director of housing policy for the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“Expanding access to affordable mortgage credit is an urgent national priority,” Patenaude said. “Our nation’s economic recovery depends on a strong housing market that allows creditworthy families to obtain mortgage financing on safe and affordable terms. Unfortunately, mortgage-lending standards have become so tight today that large segments of the U.S. population are being excluded from the opportunity to enter the homeownership ranks.”

Patenaude said that the FHA’s Blueprint for Action is a timely and “promising” response to the issue of credit availability. “Importantly, the Blueprint recognizes that it is possible to responsibly increase mortgage access for underserved borrowers without exposing lenders and the taxpayers to significantly greater risk,” she said.

One of the key features of the FHA plan is known as Homeowners Armed with Knowledge, or HAWK for short. The HAWK program offers homebuyers savings on their FHA-insured loans if they complete HUD-approved housing counseling provided by independent nonprofit organizations.

“The Blueprint’s Homeowners Armed with Knowledge initiative that proposes to reduce FHA mortgage insurance premiums for first-time homebuyers who participate in housing counseling is a particularly welcome development,” Patenaude said. “Housing counseling has proven to be an effective tool in expanding access while promoting sustainable homeownership, particularly for low-wealth borrowers.

“We commend the FHA for putting forth this action-oriented plan and look forward to working with HUD as it implements the various components of the Blueprint.”

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