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The US Government and the Foreclosure Crisis: Out of Ideas or Out of Will?

posted by Jean Braucher

It’s old news that federal housing agencies need better ideas about what to do about the foreclosure crisis.  The new development is that they realize it and have issued a blunderbuss “RFI” (request for information) seeking ideas from anyone willing to write in by September 15 describing business structures for the government to off-load foreclosed properties it is holding, particularly in “large scale transactions” to deal with the scale of the problem of lingering “inventory.”  See here.   An RFI is something short of an RFP (request for proposals).  Indeed, this new RFI is careful to note the distinction and also that there may never be a call for actual proposals.   So let’s not get too excited.  Furthermore, the problem of the continuing foreclosure crisis seems to be less about ideas than about will to act.  Most disturbing, the RFI does not even allude to the possibility of beefing up foreclosure prevention as an important way to stem growth in the volume of unsold and vacant foreclosed homes.

So first, what is the government looking for?  Specifically, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), in consultation with Treasury and HUD, seeks new options for selling foreclosed one-to-four unit properties held by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).   Bulk sales might be for resale, rental or demolition.

FHFA is conservator for Fannie and Freddie, the government-sponsored entities (GSEs) that predominate in the secondary mortgage market and that went belly-up in the foreclosure crisis and were taken over by the government.  FHA, a government agency funded with premiums rather than tax dollars, is the largest insurer of mortgages in the world.  Together, these three entities held over 250,000 foreclosed homes as of the end of June, about half of foreclosed residential inventory.  Much of this inventory is moldering, causing havoc in neighborhoods and keeping home prices depressed.  Another 830,000 homes are supposedly in the foreclosure pipeline heading toward GSE or FHA ownership.   “Shadow” inventory, meaning homes expected to end up sold at foreclosure, continues to cast a pall over the housing market and economic recovery more generally.   Given the potential size of the problem, FHFA particularly wants proposals to deal with $50 million to $1 billion in assets at a time, and it has the power to go forward without the need for deadlocked Congress to act.

So it is worth coming up with new ideas, even if belatedly, or recycling old ones, and some are excited at the prospect.  Mortgage News Daily, for example, has relentlessly covered ideas for using foreclosed homes to bring down prices in the rental market, including rentals to “previous homeowners.”  (Comment:  What about keeping them in their homes in the first place, perhaps as renters, which those without equity effectively are, but at more affordable rates?  See here for such a proposal, but since it depends on congressional action, forget about it.  We don’t need foreclosures to get there.)   The government’s RFI specifically mentions that it is seeking ideas for business structures for sale of foreclosed homes to be used as rental property (along with approaches to sale for resale or demolition).    The Center for American Progress is enthusiastic, saying that good approaches “could generate much-needed revenue for the government, expand the quantity of energy efficient, affordable housing to thousands of American families, and create well-paying jobs.”  But a note of caution, CAP first put forth the idea of selling foreclosed properties to investors to be renovated and used as scatter-site rentals a year and a half ago.  Similar ideas have already been implemented, for example in Los Angeles and Cleveland, using nonprofits as developers and with lease-purchase options so that longterm renters can become homeowners.  See here.   These sorts of projects have sometimes involved use of foreclosed homes in distressed neighborhoods, turned over at low prices or essentially as gifts from local taxing authorities.

Efforts to put foreclosed properties to good use could be swamped if we don’t also direct more energy to stemming the tide of inventory, a euphemism for what is left after people are tossed out of their homes.  Specifically, it would be nice to see foreclosure prevention linked in the government policy mill to the problem of dealing with foreclosed property.  Seemingly lost in the shuffle is the irony of focusing on large-scale transactions to rent foreclosed properties, to a market that includes their former owners.  Sure, FHFA could implement a program of large transactions in sales of foreclosed homes without congressional action.  But it could also act on its own to implement proposals to have the GSEs modify loans or convert loans to rentals, keeping people in the same homes under different terms while also reducing relocation and transaction costs and emotional toll.  Not all foreclosures can be prevented, but FHFA has done far too little to reduce the inventory problem by keeping properties from becoming foreclosed inventory in the first place.

Comments

Out of will. Definitely out of will. No one wants to do anything because it is too much work. And, besides, getting something done means there is less time to parade in front of cameras with very serious and dire looks on ones' faces.

No, nothing will change until the voters demand change. So far there is no demand from sane people. Which brings to mind that old saw, "in a democracy, the people get the ind of government that they deserve".

The federal government, by way of the FTC, OCC, FBI, Secret Service, US Postal Service, FDIC, US AG, OTS, FCIC, SIG-Tarp, HUD-OIG, GAO and approximately 49 U.S. Senators and Congresspeople and 46 or so state AGs, NEVER HAD THE "WILL" (read interest) TO BEGIN WITH. That list is simply personal contact, btw.

This "crisis" has been playing out for well over a decade. It really is nothing new. The only reason it came to light in the last few years is because of the origination volume that happened to generate it. Had the bubble not begun, who knows how much longer the invisible gravy train would have run for servicers. I've had Mortgage Servicing Fraud victims from the mid-late 90s contact me and say that my own situation sounded exactly like what they went through with their own mortgage.

I have a page on my site entitled "They Knew Back Then". http://getdshirtz.com/index.php?option=com_rokdownloads&view=folder&Itemid=135

20+ state agencies and/or politicians, going as far back as 1999, I believe, were receiving complaints about then Fairbanks Capital Corp. The "leader" of the 50 state Servicer Forgiveness Consortium, Iowa AG Tom Miller, was receiving complaints about at LEAST Fairbanks as far back as 2002. Senators, Schumer, Clinton and McCain go back roughly 2004.

Minnesota was getting complaints in 2000. That's Bachmann and Pawlenty territory. It's also Fidelity National Information Services, Fidelity National Bankruptcy Solutions, Fidelity National Foreclosure Solutions, Lender Processing Services and however many other entities you can legally register to use the 1270 Northland Rd. Suite 200, Mendota Heights, MN address. Back in 2008, I think I stopped counting at about 15 in this thread over at MSFraud http://ssgoldstar.websitetoolbox.com/post?id=2443140&highlight=1270+northland

Huntsman became Governor of Utah in 2004 - at the same time that the rotary fecal distributor was cranking up with then Fairbanks Capital Corp. He was governor when they changed their name to Select Portfolio Servicing Inc. in 2005. Fairbanks/SPS operated right in his backyard in Salt Lake City the entire time he was in office.

And it's not that there is no "will" to do anything about it. It's just that "it" generates more political contributions than anything that comes out of actually DOING SOMETHING about it.

Just last week Governor Mitt Romney stated that "corporations are people." That allows them incredible latitude with regard to politics. My next million may be made in the "Corporations are people" and "Money Equals Speech" t-shirt and bumper sticker industry. The problem with "corporations are people" is that no one wants to hold them accountable as if they are people.

Read a story today about a Nevada guy who fraudulently told borrowers that he had acquired the servicing rights to their home. Guilty - one count of Mortgage Fraud. Maximum of 102 months with a minimum of 24 months in the Nevada State Prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victims in the amount of $346,155.15 for schemes relating to mortgage fraud, mortgage rescue fraud, credit repair and collection enterprises. http://homeequitytheft.blogspot.com/2011/08/suspect-gets-24-to-102-months-in-mtg.html#links

Servicers get billions in HAMP funds shoveled at them and class action settlements with "no admission of wrongdoing." Happened in literally every big servicer settlement of which I am aware.

The thing is, all that has to happen to keep them all just a LITTLE more honest is to nail just one of them to the wall. Do that - set the precedent - and it may just be enough to bring everyone in line. For awhile anyway. All Bill Russell had to do was throw one elbow in a nationally televised game...

It's not that the "will" was LOST. You just can't lose something that was NEVER THERE TO BEGIN WITH.

I agree that the best solution is to keep people in their homes in the first place. The scary part is "selling" foreclosures in bulk to the very organizations that caused the mess in the first place.

The organizations did not cause the foreclosure mess, a housing bubble did, lax oversight, etc
many homes are not fha insured and backed and limits have only been expanded recently aka jumbo loans, interestingly mortgage fraud is being used by bankers to cover their tracks also and not them,
servicers also give folks a hard time with refinance

I don't think you can link minnesota to bachmann/pawlenty territory given that the state is much more liberal as a whole, and for a while avoided high unemployment and housing till now, with many immigrants who bought homes.

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