Op-Ed: How underwater mortgages can float the economy
Recent calls for another federal stimulus package raise an important question: Before considering costly short-term measures to raise overall consumer demand, have we done enough to ensure that financial markets will work properly and lead us to recovery? For housing — the sector at the center of the crisis — the answer is no. But the good news is that it might be possible to improve the housing market and invigorate the economy in a way that won’t require a costly stimulus package. In a normally functioning mortgage market, almost all homeowners would have refinanced their mortgages to take advantage of low rates. Yet today, low interest rates are doing little to stimulate the housing market because of other stresses, including declines in house prices, falling household incomes and banks’ wariness of making loans. To change this dynamic, we propose a new program through which the federal government would direct the public and quasi-public entities that guarantee mortgages — Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, the Department of Veterans Affairs loan-guarantee program and the Federal Housing Administration — to make it far easier and quicker for homeowners to refinance.