Housing Bailout Grows

It should come as no surprise to anyone following the housing crash that the government's $75 billion Making Home Affordable program, a.k.a. mortgage bailout, is not all things to all borrowers.

California Suburbs
Allan Ferguson
California Suburbs

Just this week Treasury officials stressed that it was simply one piece of a multi-faceted solution.

Of the 5.6 million borrowers currently delinquent, Treasury estimates only 1.7 million are eligible for the program.

Today President Obama stood in Nevada, ground zero for the foreclosure crisis, a state with 13 percent unemployment, and announced another pricey program to keep borrowers in their homes.

The money, we assume, goes to help those ineligible for MHA. This one gives $1.5 billion to the hardest hit states (do I even need to list them? — CA, AZ, NV, FL, MI) to "help address the problems facing the hardest hit housing markets." White House officials describe this as states that have "suffered an average home price drop of over 20 percent from the peak."

Initiatives may include:

  • Measures for unemployed homeowners;
  • Programs to assist borrowers owing more than their home is now worth;
  • Programs that help address challenges arising from second mortgages; or
  • Other programs encouraging sustainable and affordable homeownership.

The press release from the White House says these programs must have total "transparency" and "accountability" for results. The money will come from the TARP and go to Housing Finance Agencies which will then "determine the priorities facing their local markets."

The release goes on to give "illustrations" of some potential programs, including using the funds to help unemployed borrowers bridge the financial gap between jobs, to help "underwater borrowers" by negotiating with lenders to write down principal and to offer incentives to second lien holders to extinguish loans.

$1.5 billion.

Drop in the bucket?

Free money?

Necessary evil?

All of the above.

And we get this news just as the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that the foreclosure crisis may in fact be improving. Fewer borrowers are getting into trouble for the first time. The trouble still is with those who have been delinquent for many months, and those who are choosing to walk away from their mortgage commitments due to high negative equity.

We've all argued the moral slippery slope involved with bailing out borrowers who knowingly and recklessly got themselves into financial trouble, but as the reason for delinquency shifts from bad borrowing to unemployment plain and simple, it appears sentiment is shifting as well.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com