Housing was largely absent from President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address, but he did mention a potentially game-changing proposal – a mass refinancing plan for homeowners that are current on their mortgages that, according to the President, could save them roughly $3,000 a year on their mortgages.
Though no details about the program have been issued by the White House outside of what was presented in the speech, the essentials seem quite simple. Using a small fee that would be charged only to the smallest banks, the government would take advantage of historically-low interest rates and dramatically expand upon the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), allowing the 11 million or so underwater borrowers to refinance their loans.
The President’s full quote on the program is as follows:
“I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates,” Obama said in his address. “No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”
If the President can get his proposal off the ground (and, most importantly, bipartisan support in Congress), there would be quite a few mortgages to modify, beyond underwater loans. A Wall Street Journal piece on the refinancing program cited a recent CoreLogic estimation that 85 percent of all mortgages, or 28 million homeowners, could cut their rates by more than 1 percent if they refinanced.
Beyond refinancing, the President also mentioned a “special unit” of investigators that would specifically target mortgage fraud.
“I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis,” Obama said. “This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.
Yesterday, we had reported on speculation that the President would address such matters in his speech, especially from disgruntled congressman who desired a more direct, forceful approach from the President in addressing fraud and housing’s ills.
We’ll soon find out what they thought, but what did you take away from the President’s speech?