Necessary reforms to save FHA

by Dan Krell
DanKrell.com
© 2013
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home for saleAfter the financial and foreclosure crises, FHA became the workhorse that not only kept the housing industry afloat, but assisted many financially distressed home owners keep their homes. After taking the brunt of the crises and almost facing insolvency, it’s time for FHA to get back to helping home buyers who might not otherwise have the means of purchasing a home.

The Federal Housing Authority (also known as FHA) was established in 1934, to help jump start a housing industry that was decimated by the Great Depression. Much like the housing downturn of the recent “Great Recession” which followed a housing boom; the 1930’s housing bust followed a 1920’s housing boom. At a time when a majority of Americans rented, the FHA provided the means for would be home buyers to become home owners.

Unless you’re familiar with the FHA’s history, you might have questioned the use of FHA as a means to refinance home owners with underwater mortgages as well as assisting those in foreclosure. However, FHA has a history of assisting home owners facing financial uncertainty, as well as making mortgages available to home buyers during times when conventional lenders were not lending. And although many criticized such assistance programs as being unnecessary and wasteful; in retrospect, these measures were significant and necessary during an uncertain time for the housing industry – regardless of the outcomes.

Last year, the outcomes of mortgage and home owner assistance programs were highly criticized as being responsible for almost bankrupting FHA. Although many describe FHA’s woes stemming from being saddled with non-performing loans and a historic number of borrowers; Tami Luhby, in her January 24th 2012 article in CNNMoney (Has Obama’s housing policy failed?; cnnmoney.com), provides some insight to the crises related assistance programs’ lender related bureaucratic issues and low success rates. She reported that at the time of her article, the HAMP program only helped about 910,000 home owners refinance to lower interest rate mortgages instead of the planned 4 million; and the HARP program “… which was intended to reach 5 million borrowers, has yielded about the same results. Through October [2011], when it was revamped and expanded, the program had assisted 962,000…”

It comes as no surprise that after eroding capital reserves, congressional hearings were held late last year to address FHA’s losses. As a result, FHA plans to shore up its financial short falls by increasing mortgage insurance premiums, increased down payment requirements for loans in excess of $625,500, as well as tightening underwriting standards.

FHA’s survival may come down to its perceived role in housing industry. And of course, there is criticism from both sides: some argue that FHA’s losses have become an unsustainable burden; while others argue the tightening measures will hurt the housing market and limit home ownership.

So, when I read Jacob Gaffney’s January 15th lamentation about refinancing out of an FHA mortgage (Refinancing Away From the Government; With an FHA Blessing: housingwire.com), the planned FHA changes not only make sense, but is necessary to preserve the access to homeownership that FHA provides. FHA Commissioner Carol Galante’s response to Gaffney not only impressed him, but may sum up the FHA mission: “…The role of FHA is to enable homeowners. FHA helped you get your home, made it happen” …”If you find you can move on, then I’m pleased you have that opportunity.”

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of February 4, 2013. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

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