Saturday, February 12, 2011

Republican Subcommittee Chairman Lauds Obama Housing Smackdown

Illinois’ 13th District Republican Representative Judy Biggert, Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity, is looking forward to joining with other committee Republicans to quickly extract the federal government from its role as primary financial risk taker in the housing market in this country. Joining in the Obama Treasury Department attack on any continuing role for federal housing subsidies in the form of residential mortgage guarantees, Biggert said in her E-mail message to constituents yesterday: “Taxpayers cannot continue to shoulder the financial risks associated with [federally chartered mortgage guarantors] Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac]. … Our goal should be to choose a path that will quickly and prudently wind down the government’s role and restore stability to the housing market.”

In other words, Republican leaders are climbing aboard the Obama Treasury train of proposed measures which will raise home mortgage interest rates, cut back availability of 30 year fixed rate mortgages to even the most creditworthy borrowers, and altogether eliminate availability of low down payment lending to first time homebuyers. If you don’t already own your home, the American Dream may be pulling out of your station and rapidly receding into the distance as the train whistle hoots its demise. In a long awaited white paper released yesterday by Treasury, the Obama administration proposes cutting the size of mortgages Fannie and Freddie can purchase from private lenders, from the present $729,750 down to $625,500 as soon as the third quarter of 2011. Minimum required down payments will go up to 10% for conventional loans, and rise from the current 3.5% up to 5% for FHA first time buyer mortgages.

Finally, Treasury proposes increasing the fees Fannie and Freddie charge conventional lenders for guaranteeing the mortgages these lenders underwrite.

In a related Obama administration attack aimed specifically at lower income home owners, the administration proposes a $2.5 billion reduction in the LIHEAP home heating fuel assistance program. What’s the point in owning your home if you can’t afford to heat it?

While, admittedly, excesses in home mortgage lending, and the securitization of home loans into derivative instruments, contributed heavily to the near collapse of worldwide financial markets and drove the U. S. economy into the worst recession in decades, it is beginning to look like the Obama administration’s use of a purgative on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could be the cure that proves worse than the disease. Available credit for both the construction and purchase of new homes has already dried up into a syrupy consistency clogging the arteries of any hope for quick recovery in the construction sector of the American economy, and the Obama Treasury Department recommendations for home mortgage market reform will keep construction workers, trade contractors and home builders on the sidelines of the economic recovery for years to come.
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