The $1 foreclosure solution

The buzz last week came from a Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) request for information (RFI). The RFI is “seeking input on new options” on the disposition of foreclosed properties that are held by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). FHFA ( is the “the regulator and conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the regulator of the 12 Federal Home Loan Banks.”

The August 10th release stated that the FHFA, in consultation with HUD, is seeking to stabilize the housing market by exploring “alternatives for maximizing value to taxpayers and increasing private investment in the housing market, including approaches that support rental and affordable housing needs.” FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco stated that although individual homes will continue to be sold, there is an interest in “pooling” (i.e., bulk sales) assets if it can “reduce Enterprise credit losses and help stabilize neighborhoods and home values…”

Among the objectives outlined in the RFI, included are: a reduction of REO portfolios; a focus on property repair and rehabilitation; and a focus on neighborhood and price stabilization. However, it appears as if the outcome may already be weighted towards a rental solution (“FHFA, Treasury and HUD anticipate respondents may best address these objectives through REO to rental structures”), even though an objective of the RFI is to use “analytic approaches to determine the appropriate disposition strategy for individual properties, whether sale, rental, or, in certain instances, demolition.”

If one intention of the FHFA and HUD is to implement a rental program, then it seems only appropriate to examine how the “lease for deed” program, that Fannie Mae embarked upon in 2009, has performed and impacted neighborhood home values and stabilization.

However, another possible solution with a focus on home ownership and community involvement comes from the recently deceased Governor William Donald Schaefer. Although many may remember the former Governor of Maryland, but many probably do not remember William Donald Schaefer as Mayor of Baltimore. As Mayor of Baltimore, Schaefer oversaw some of the most intensive urban renewal and revitalization projects of the 1970’s, some of which were mimicked around the country. One of the most memorable, at least to longtime Baltimore residents, is the $1 home.

As the deterioration of downtown Baltimore escalated, the City was faced with a growing number of vacant homes that among other things significantly depreciated property values. Along with commercial redevelopment, such as the Inner Harbor projects, a plan for residential renewal was undertaken that at the outset appeared risky and incomprehensible.

The program involved the City purchasing blocks of homes and then selling them to owner- occupants for $1. The idea was to basically provide affordable housing to home owners who would agree to not only rehabilitate the property (rehab loans were provided by the City), but to also live in the home for a number of years – thus turning rows of vacant homes into desirable neighborhoods that shouted pride of ownership as well as increasing property values and stabilizing the community (

Although the FHFA may be focused on “transferring” their REO portfolios by selling as many homes as they can non-resident investors, hoping for renovations and affordable housing from an absentee owner; however, a more viable solution may be found in owner-occupants, who are invested in maintaining their homes and participating in their communities.

by Dan Krell
© 2011

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