Any Bright Ideas?
Jean Braucher has noted the FHFA's RFI on foreclosure prevention. A huge problem with any proposal is the time to implementation for anything. It took months to develop flops like FHASecure, Hope4Homeowners, and FHAShortRefi. Any program where the government and/or private parties have to do much gets a major ding in my book because by the time its rolled out and the kinks are worked out, it'll be too late.
So here are some thoughts. First, the government needs to settle on its policy goal. Why are we trying to prevent foreclosures? Is it a macroeconomic goal of stabilizing the housing market? Is it a macroeconomic goal of deleveraging consumer balance sheets? Is it a moral goal of helping unfortunates? Is it an electoral goal of making people feel that the government is doing something/is on their side?
Second, there are obvious limitations on what the administration can do. Anything involving legislation is a non-starter with this dysfunctional Congress. Rule-making too might be problematic. But there's plenty the administration can do without legislation or rule-making. What's upsetting is that the adminsitration doesn't seem to be giving any consideration to these options because it will involve some tussling with the financial sector. It's easier to pretend that its hands are tied by Congressional acrimony and that ideas don't exist.
So let me throw out an idea: why not have FHFA order the GSEs as a safety-and-soundness measure to write-down the principal on all underwater mortgages? Or to offer all underwater homeowners with GSE loans a shared equity refinancing? At the very least, this could be done no question on GSE portfolio loans, and with some smart lawyering probably also on GSE securitized loans. (And if there is securitizaiton fail with the GSEs, then they're all portfolio loans!) That deals with (1) strategic default/negative equity, and (2) consumer balance sheet deleveraging. It doesn't take much to expand that move to FHA/VA, bank portfolio loans, and to private-label (ah, what a squandered opportunity the servicing consent orders were...).
Now this won't help with unemployment, but deleveraging consumers is the key to increasing consumer credit and increasing consumer spending, which is the key to increasing job growth. It's all connected. It probably won't kick in until 2013-2014 (Maybe just in time for it to be known as the Bachman or Romney or Perry recovery? If so, the GOP can thank the bank regulators), but it's the right thing to do.