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From Alejandro Laso at the latimes.com:

More than 100,000 struggling homeowners could get help from a $2-billion program that California is launching, including about 25,000 borrowers who owe more than their properties are worth and could see their mortgages shrink.

The Keep Your Home California program, which uses federal funds reserved for the 2008 rescue of the financial system, has the potential to make a sizable dent in California’s foreclosure crisis and help the general housing market. State officials hope to fend off foreclosure for about 95,000 borrowers and provide moving assistance to about 6,500 people who do lose their homes.

Consumer advocates have criticized other attempts at foreclosure prevention as falling short, particularly the Obama administration’s $75-billion program to help troubled borrowers. They were heartened by the scope of California’s effort but concerned it would be hampered if the state can’t get major banks on board.

Out of the five major mortgage servicers — Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Ally Financial and Citigroup Inc. — only Ally has formally signed on to a key part of the plan: reducing mortgage principal on homes that are “underwater,” or worth less than the size of the mortgage. A Bank of America spokesman said the bank intends to participate but hasn’t yet reached a formal agreement with the California Housing Finance Agency, which designed the program.

“If they can actually stave off foreclosures and the people stay in the homes, then that is a great thing for the market,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow.com. “It would be great because the continuing flow of foreclosures on the marketplace exerts downward pressure on home prices, and it also creates more supply of inventory on the marketplace, so foreclosures are really a double whammy.”

The biggest of the plan’s four parts allocates $875 million as temporary financial help to people who have seen their paychecks cut or have lost their jobs, providing as much as $3,000 a month for six months to cover home payments and associated costs. The second-largest chunk of money, $790 million, is slated for a principal reduction program that would write down the value of an estimated 25,135 underwater mortgages.

Another piece would use $129 million to provide as much as $15,000 apiece to help homeowners get current on their mortgages, and another would take $32 million to provide moving assistance for people who can’t afford to remain in their homes.

The program is aimed at helping low- and moderate-income people who own only one property. To qualify in Los Angeles County, for instance, a family couldn’t earn more than $75,600 a year. The maximum benefit for any household participating in the program is $50,000. Homeowners who refinanced their homes to take cash out of their properties won’t be allowed to participate.

The principal-reduction component would pay lenders $1 for every dollar of mortgage debt forgiven. Many experts have said reducing principal on such underwater loans would go far toward reducing foreclosures because home values have fallen so steeply that homeowners are tempted to walk away from their obligations.

But banks have been reluctant to significantly reduce principal on loans other than on certain kinds of risky mortgages that are now seen as having been highly imprudent.

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