Attorneys Question Rental Proposal: Why Isn’t Administration More Interested In Preventing Foreclosure In 1st Place?

A group of attorneys is pressing the Obama administration to do more to help keep struggling homeowners out of foreclosure.

While the Obama administration has begun looking at ways to transform government-owned foreclosed homes around the country into rental properties, a group of lawyers wants the administration to do more to help keep embattled homeowners in their homes in the first place.

The administration last week announced plans to convert some of the 250,000 foreclosed homes that the government owns through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration in an effort to improve the nation’s housing market. The government would look for investors to turn foreclosed homes into rental units.

However, the head of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) wants to see the government offer more help to those Americans facing mortgage trouble so as prevent more foreclosures.

“While there is value in cleaning up the abandoned and vacant foreclosed homes that are a blight on communities across the country, I question why the Administration isn’t more concerned about avoiding preventable foreclosures in the first place. Otherwise, you are looking at a situation here of closing the barn door after you’ve let the cows escape,” says NACBA President William Brewer. “When provided the opportunity to embrace a plan for judicial mortgage modification in the early years of the foreclosure crisis, the Administration instead relied on voluntary efforts of the servicers to modify mortgages. Their solution – HAMP – is a proven failure with serious nationwide consequences.”

The administration’s signature mortgage-prevention program, known as HAMP, has faced a long string of news stories indicating that it has not kept up with the needs of homeowners, and that mortgage companies have broken program rules.

More than 2.5 million homes were foreclosed on through 2009 and another 8 million are projected to be foreclosed on by the time the housing crisis abates, according to NACBA.

“So, now we have only a plan to clean up the wreckage inflicted by a bad policy decision that went against U.S. consumers exactly as many forecasted it would,” Brewer adds.

NACBA urges the administration to take on the bigger challenge of finding ways of avoiding preventable foreclosures in the first place, rather than just cleaning up the mess after the fact.

“Toward that end, we have presented the Administration with one possible option, the so-called ‘Principal Paydown Plan,’ under which an undersecured mortgage would be restructured in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy so that the homeowner would immediately start paying down the loan principal and reduce negative equity by reducing the interest rate to zero percent for five years,” Brewer says. “At the end of this five-year period, the remaining principal balance would be amortized over 25 years at the Freddie Mac survey rate. Leading housing economists have consistently cited the problem of negative home equity as a key factor pushing up the foreclosure numbers.

“Not every individual foreclosure can or should be stopped, but there is an urgent need to stem the crisis by closing the growing chasm between prevention and losses. Without stronger policy intervention, not only will millions of families lose their homes unnecessarily, but massive foreclosures will continue to destroy communities, drag down the housing market, and keep a full economic recovery out of reach,” he adds. “It’s time for the Obama Administration to stop focusing on disaster relief and instead put its energies into disaster prevention when it comes to the U.S. foreclosure crisis.”

Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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