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Monday, March 03, 2008

Paulson: Don't Walk Away

by Calculated Risk on 3/03/2008 11:58:00 AM

Remarks from Secretary Paulson:

First, many in Washington and many financial institutions have been floating proposals for a major government intervention in the housing market, with U.S. taxpayers assuming the costs of the riskiest mortgages. Today, 93 percent of American homeowners – 51 million households - pay their mortgages on time. Many are on tight budgets, sacrificing other things in order to make that payment. Only 2 percent are in foreclosure.

Most of the proposals I've seen would do more harm than good --- bailing out investors, lenders or speculators who, instead of getting a free-pass, should be accountable for the risks they took. Let me be clear: I oppose any bailout. I believe our efforts are best focused on helping homeowners who want to stay in their homes.

Second, this is a shared responsibility of industry, government and homeowners. We in government are working to expand options through the FHA, and we've worked with the industry to reach as many homeowners as possible to let them know that help is available. There is more that government and industry can do, and our efforts will continue to evolve. Homeowners have responsibilities as well. If borrowers won't ask about solutions, there is only so much that can be done on their behalf.

Third, the current public discussion often conflates the number of so-called "underwater" homeowners – that is, those with mortgages greater than the value of their house – with projections of foreclosures. Let's be precise: being underwater does not affect your ability to pay your mortgage, nor create a government responsibility for assistance. Homeowners who can afford their mortgage should honor their obligations --- and most do.

Obviously, being underwater is not insignificant to homeowners in that position. But negative equity does not necessarily result in foreclosure. Most people buy homes as a long-term investment, as a place to raise a family and put down roots in a community. Homeowners who can afford their payments and don't have to move, can choose to stay in their house. And let me emphasize, any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator – and one who is not honoring his obligations.

We know that speculation increased in recent years; a resulting increase in foreclosures is to be expected and does not warrant any relief. People who speculated and bought investment properties in hot markets should take their losses just like day traders who speculated and bought soaring tech stocks in 2000.