The Washington Post

Obama to tout success of mortgage refinancing

SEATTLE — President Obama will announce new figures Friday showing a dramatic spike in the number of Americans taking advantage of federal programs designed to help struggling homeowners and stabilize the lagging housing industry, administration officials said Thursday.

The numbers, officials said, demonstrate the success of programs Obama has implemented to let more homeowners refinance their homes at a time of historically low interest rates. And they demonstrate the need, they said, for Congress to take still more action to give even more Americans the same opportunity.

“Economists across all sectors have recognized that this refinancing is one of the most important things we can do to quickly accelerate the housing market and the broader economy,” said Shaun Donovan, Obama’s secretary of housing and urban development.

According to the White House, refinancing applications in three of the hardest-hit states in the housing crisis, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, have ballooned since Obama announced programs to let more homeowners who are underwater on their loans qualify for refinancing with lower, more affordable rates.

The number of refinancing applications has more than doubled in all three states, Donovan said. He cited the Home Affordable Refinance Program, announced in 2009, which is credited with helping more than 1 million homeowners refinance. In addition, he cited a program Obama announced in October 2011 designed to remove barriers to refinancing to homeowners with federally backed mortgages.

Now, it is up to Congress, Donovan said, to expand such programs to homeowners with loans that are not backed by the federal government — and to those who are not underwater on their loans but for whom refinancing remains out of reach because of high fees or other obstacles. The programs would be open only to “responsible” homeowners who have kept up with their payments for at least six months, he said.

In addition to helping struggling homeowners, officials said, these programs help stabilize the housing industry and are a good investment for taxpayers by reducing the risk being carried by federally backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Obama will make the announcement during a visit Friday to a couple in Reno, Nev., who took advantage of the federal program allowing them to refinance.

Val and Paul Keller were underwater on their mortgage; they owed $168,000 on a house worth only $100,000, according to White House economic adviser Brian Deese. Because of that, they did not qualify for refinancing. But Val Keller heard Obama promoting the mortgage program last fall in Las Vegas, and she called her lender and learned that she qualified. Since refinancing at a lower interest rate, the Kellers pay $240 less per month — and are plowing that money back into their home to build up their equity.

Reno is an epicenter for the national housing crisis, a region where home prices have fallen more than 50 percent since the market’s peak. In Nevada overall, more than 60 percent of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages.

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