Momentum to reform the FHA mortgage lending program is again gaining speed, with officials from both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as the National Association of Realtors pushing anew for proposed reforms from legislators in Congress. “Now is the time the country needs FHA. As subprime loans reset and real estate markets have cooled, a reformed FHA would be perfectly positioned to offer borrowers a safer mortgage alternative and help bring stability to local markets and local economies,” said Iona Harrison, NAR spokesperson, in testimony today before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity. Harrison’s view is shared by many at HUD, with Federal Housing Commissioner Brian Montgomery offering similar testimony before the House Financial Services Committee earlier in the week. “With expanded authority to set insurance premiums commensurate with risk, FHA could potentially assist tens of thousands more borrowers who need an exit strategy from their subprime mortgages,” he said. The NAR said in a press statement that it has “long supported” legislation that proposes to increase loan limits, eliminate the statutory 3 percent minimum cash down payment, allow FHA flexibility to provide risk-based pricing, and provide changes to the condominium program. “Realtors stand ready to work with Congress to advance the proposed legislation and to help many more families achieve the dream of home ownership,” Harrison said.

In a letter sent earlier this month to Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, NAR President Pat Vredevoogd Combs asked that FHA waive its requirement that a homeowner’s mortgage be current in order to refinance into an FHA loan product. That could help many families suffering from the negative subprime market and “many families may be able to skirt foreclosure and keep their homes,” said Combs. “We fully recognize the crippling effect foreclosure has on homeowners, communities, lending institutions and real estate investors,” Montgomery said. “FHA goes the extra yard to keep homeowners in their homes. We not only want to get them into a home but we also want them to fulfill the American dream by remaining in their homes.” In his testimony, the FHA Commissioner said the Bush Administration has been advocating for nearly two years that FHA would be a better alternative for many subprime borrowers if it were modernized. Montgomery again urged Congress to pass legislation that enhances the FHA’s government-insured mortgage products and provides “a safer, more affordable financing option than many subprime loans” for first time homebuyers, minority families, and families with troubled credit. The Expanding American Homeownership Act passed the House last year by a vote of 415 – 7 and has been reintroduced this year.” The current 2007 Congressional calendar runs through the middle of October.

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