Bankers and federal regulators, saying the economy is in the process of healing itself, tried to convince Congress this week that no emergency home mortgage foreclosure relief is needed.
The number of overdue loan payments and foreclosure proceedings are at record highs, but most of the regulators argued that these are peaks, and foreclosures will turn downward soon.
The House Banking Committee invited the representative of the finance industry to testify on proposed legislation a number of congressmen believe is necessary to shield victims of unemployment and the recession who would otherwise lose their homes.
Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), who is the housing subcommittee chairman and also presided over a session of the financial institutions subcommittee hearings this week, said economic hard times are far from over. And with foreclosure, he said, families "not only lose their homes -- they also lose the savings, the hard work, and the hopes of a whole lifetime."
Mark J. Riedy, executive vice president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said that unemployment, the "one overriding cause" of foreclosures, "may already be starting to improve -- albeit slowly -- and because of the dramatic improvement in mortgage interest rates and real estate activity since last fall... mortgage delinquency problems may be at or very near their peak."
Last year 5.52 percent of all home loan holders were behind in their payments by 30 days or more, representing an estimated 1.2 million loans, Riedy said. This is up from a delinquency rate of 4.62 percent in 1979, the last non-recessionary year. Foreclosure rates in 1982 also were high, with.21 percent of all loans being placed in foreclosure for the first time, and.59 percent in some stage of foreclosure proceedings.
The MBA statistics do not include any loans that have already been foreclosed. A spokeswoman said from 50 to 70 percent of the mortgages that go into foreclosure are rescued by various means, and are not lost.
The Federal Home Loan Bank Board compiles a record of completed foreclosures, and reports that 21,425 American families lost their homes during the first half of 1982. This represents an annual rate of.27 percent and the highest point since the mid-1960s.
Bank Board Chairman Richard T. Pratt believes, however, that with the recent "decline in interest rates and signs indicating a general economic recovery, a substantial recovery in the housing industry is expected in 1983." He predicted that housing starts this year would reach from 1.4 to 1.5 million units.
In the meantime, Pratt and other regulators said, banks and savings and loans are often delaying foreclosure as long as possible.
"Given the weakness of many housing markets, the long foreclosure period required in many states, and the costs of foreclosures including legal fees, accrued interest, maintenance, and property taxes, most lenders, I believe, view foreclosure only as a last resort," Pratt added.
Banking Committee chairman Rep. Fernand J. St Germain (D-R.I.) has proposed that the Home Loan Bank Board and other federal regulatory agencies become the "sources of funds or guarantees" in a relief plan for families facing foreclosure.
St. Germain's suggestion that the Federal Reserve System might make "temporary advances to assist in mortgage forbearance programs" drew opposition from Preston Martin, vice chairman of the Fed's board of directors. He said such an action "would obviously tend to complicate the reserve management task of the Federal Reserve and undermine its ability to control growth in the money supply." Of even more concern, Martin added, is "the precedent that would be set."
Stanley C. Silverberg, director of research for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said his organization "would strenuously object to a scheme to assist mortgage interest payments with funds from our insurance fund." Although the fund "is adequate to cope with any scenario we envision of failing banks, to divert funds to alternative purposes would be irresponsible."
If Congress wants to enact emergency relief for homeowners, members will have plenty of legislation to choose from. At least six bills introduced so far would provide such assistance, most in the form of government loans or guarantees.
Although the Mortgage Bankers are not calling for relief, they offered guidelines for any plan enacted. Relief programs "should be limited to the principal residence of a homeowner, and only to homeowners who are unemployed or underemployed for reasons beyond their control. Regionalized unemployment statistics are probably the most appropriate basis for establishing eligibility...," Riedy said. Only holders of VA and conventional mortgages should be eligible because FHA borrowers are already covered by a federal program.Assistance payment should be relatively short-term, recapturable and secured by a second lien, and "should not exceed the equity a homeowner has in the home," he said.
Representatives of steel the auto workers' unions disagreed sharply with the regulators, saying unemployed workers are desperate. They "are exhausting unemployment... benefits, they are without health care protection, and many are faced with losing their homes," said John J. Sheehan of the United Steelworkers of America.