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Monday, December 03, 2007

Paulson "aggressively pursuing" Loan Modification Plan

by Calculated Risk on 12/03/2007 10:48:00 AM

Remarks by Secretary Paulson on Actions Taken and Actions Needed in U.S. Mortgage Markets at the Office of Thrift Supervision National Housing Forum

As we are all aware, the housing and mortgage markets are working through a period of turmoil, as are other credit markets, as risk is being reassessed and re-priced. We expect that this turbulence will take some time to work through, and we expect some penalty on our short-term economic growth. ...

And as I have said before, the housing market downturn is the biggest challenge to our economy. When home foreclosures spike, the damage is not limited only to those who lose their homes. Homes in foreclosure can pose costs for whole neighborhoods, as crime goes up and property values decline.

... foreclosure is expensive for all participants - lenders and investors – and this expense is an incentive to avoid foreclosure when a homeowner has the financial wherewithal to own a home. ...

And so, Treasury is aggressively pursuing a comprehensive plan to help as many able homeowners as possible keep their homes.
And on the modification plan:
... our plan involves a pragmatic response to the reality that the number of homeowners struggling with their resetting subprime mortgage will increase throughout 2008. As volume increases, we will need an aggressive, systematic approach to fast-track able borrowers into a refinance or mortgage modification. This third element does not, and will not, include spending taxpayer money on funding or subsidies for industry participants or homeowners.

While the reality is a bit more complex, in the interest of simplicity, there are four categories of subprime borrowers. There are those who can afford their adjusted interest rate; these homeowners need no assistance. There are also a substantial number of homeowners who haven't been making payments at the starter rate on their subprime loan and may not have the financial wherewithal to sustain home ownership; some of these homeowners will become renters again. A third category of homeowners might choose to refinance their mortgage - putting them in a sustainable mortgage while keeping investors whole. This is the first, best option. Servicers should move quickly to assist those who can refinance.

And the fourth category is those with steady incomes and relatively clean payment histories who could afford the lower introductory mortgage rate but cannot afford the higher adjusted rate. We are focusing on this group, determining who they are and what steps may appropriately assist them.
We are determined to ... develop a set of standards that will be implemented across the industry, from the largest mortgage servicers to the smaller specialty servicers. An industry-wide approach is critical to the effectiveness of this effort.

To speed up the modification process, Treasury is working through the HOPE NOW alliance with the American Securitization Forum to convene servicers and investors so they can develop categories of borrowers eligible for appropriate modifications and refinancings, and an industry-wide solution. This work takes time, as all parties seek to define categories of borrowers for streamlined refinance and modification where that is in the best interest of both the borrower and the mortgage investor. I am confident they will finalize these standards soon. And I expect all servicers will implement them quickly, and create benchmarks to measure their progress along the way. As a result, what was a fragmented, cumbersome process can be a coordinated effort which more quickly helps able homeowners.
Paulson clearly defined the group of borrowers that are being targeted for modifications: Homeowners with "steady incomes and relatively clean payment histories who could afford the lower introductory mortgage rate but cannot afford the higher adjusted rate".

Whenever the freeze ends, most of the homeowners in the defined group will still face foreclosure. So the purpose of this plan is clear - since the industry lacks the infrastructure to handle the work load, this guideline helps decide which loans to foreclose on now, and which loans to foreclose on later.