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Time to 'Sober Up' on Foreclosures: TARP Official

Banks and homeowners alike need to take a more realistic view about how to stem the tide of foreclosures overtaking the housing market and the economy, the head of a government watchdog panel told CNBC.

Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren listens during a hearing before the Congressional Oversight Panel that was created to oversee the expenditure of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
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Panel Chair Elizabeth Warren listens during a hearing before the Congressional Oversight Panel that was created to oversee the expenditure of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

The more than $700 billion the government allocated toward dealing with foreclosures has only made a minor dent in the problem, said Elizabeth Warren, chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

That's because those on both sides of the equation are not taking a proactive enough approach, she said.

"We have to sober up on this and say, 'Look, it's time to get realistic,'" Warren said. "It's time for the banks to get realistic about the value of the second mortgages, it's time to be realistic about doing some principal writedowns."

But the onus is not entirely on banks. Homeowners with distressed mortgages also may need a reality check.

  • Click here for the full video of Warren's interview >>>

"Some of you should stay in your homes...and some of you don't belong in those homes and you've got to be moved out," Warren said. "And frankly, those houses need to get back onto the market and get into the hands of people who can afford them."

"In other words, acknowledge the problem, deal with it, write off the losses and start rebuilding an economy on solid ground."

Warren projected that as many as 1.9 million homeowners will lose their houses this year, up a notch from the 1.7 million in 2009. Some 200,000 families a month are being added to the foreclosure rolls.

She called the situation a "negative spiral" in which foreclosures are driving down property values which in turn creates more foreclosures.

"We have a problem," she said. "It is continuing to grow."

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  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.