Just two days after Bloomberg News reported that a new bill was being drafted by Senators Boxer and Menendez to expand the Home Affordable Refinance Program to help more underwater homeowners with loans held by government-sponsored enterprises, now comes word that help may be on the way for those with non-GSE held loans too. Thus far homeowners with mortgages not held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac have been shut out of the HARP program. Bloomberg News is now reporting that Senator Merkley of Oregon is drafting a new bill to open up refinance opportunities for underwater homeowners with privately held mortgages. It is likely the bill will be similar to a proposal Senator Merkley made last year in which a federal trust will be set up to purchase or guarantee refinanced mortgages. This is still speculative as the bill has not yet been introduced.
Month – January 2013
Bloomberg News is reporting that Senators Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer intend to introduce a new Bill later this week to address expanding the Home Affordable Refinance Program. The Bill will be very similar to The Responsible Homeowners Refinancing Act of 2012 which failed last year to make it out of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. The Bill would expand HARP by providing assurances to lenders that they will not have to absorb losses on refinanced mortgages that default. I look forward to reviewing the specifics of the Bill when they become public. The U.S.Treasury has also indicated that they may step in to facilitate refinancing for underwater homeowners if Congress fails to act soon.
I have made a number of updates to the website the last few days that should help raise the profile for the Make Harp 3.0 Happen movement. First, a new WordPress theme has been installed which should make the site easier to navigate. I also installed a mobile theme, so now finding your way around the site on a smartphone should be just as easy as using the desktop version of the site. I’ve also created a new email list to help mobilize support for future efforts. I urge you all to join. What I’ve learned from the petition is it takes a lot of work to get the message out. More than 1100 have signed the petition thus far and that has come almost solely from word of mouth. It is very difficult to get the media to cover the story. A large early response would have been helpful. I wasn’t really expecting this to become what it has. I created the petition to vent some frustration. It grew into this movement as I found many others just as frustrated. I want to rally support for future efforts much earlier. Building a base of contacts is critical to that. So please join the mailing list.advertisement
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 23, 2013
White House Petition to Expand HARP Refinance Program for Underwater Homeowners Reaches 1000 Signatures
A petition calling for the Obama Administration to issue a formal request to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to eliminate the securitization cutoff date for eligibility in the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has received more than 1000 signatures since being posted on the “We the People” White House web site on January 9, 2013. The petition resides at: http://wh.gov/PQOH.
HARP is a federal program managed by the FHFA to help underwater homeowners refinance their mortgages at more favorable rates. Mortgage rates are now at historical lows of less than 4%. For the 11 million homeowners in the U.S. with negative equity, HARP is the only option for refinancing. When HARP was launched in 2009, it was believed that more than 5 million homeowners would benefit from the program. The program has fallen far short of that goal. Efforts last year by the Obama Administration and Congress to expand HARP have stalled. Homeowners frustrated by the lack of progress are mobilizing to support this petition.
The petition was originated by Marcus John, an underwater homeowner residing in Clementon, NJ. Marcus is one of the millions of responsible underwater homeowners that maintain good credit and are current on their mortgages, but are effectively shut out of the HARP program due to the arbitrarily set cutoff date of May 31, 2009. Loans secured by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac after the cutoff date are not eligible for HARP.
If the petition garners 25,000 signatures, the White House will review it and issue a response. It will remain active through February 8, 2013. The petition reads as follows:advertisement
We Petition the Obama Administration to: Make a formal request to the FHFA to eliminate the securitization cutoff date for HARP eligibility and allow re-HARPing
Under the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) The Director of The Federal Housing Finance Agency has authority to extend or eliminate the eligibility cutoff date. Currently the date is set as 5/31/09. Many responsible homeowners are unable to take advantage of the program to reduce their mortgage rates because of this date. On 3/17/12 HARP was revamped (HARP 2.0) and homeowners were given the power to shop for the best rates. However, those who previously refinanced under the original program are not eligible because of the arbitrary cutoff date and 1 time use limit set by FHFA Director Edward DeMarco. Eliminating the cutoff date and allowing homeowners a second chance to refinance under HARP 2.0 would help millions of Americans to save money on their monthly mortgage payment.
Signs of a housing recovery is welcome news to homeowners weighed down by underwater mortgages. An improving real estate market is slowly chipping away at the number of underwater homeowners that once totaled as high as 15 million. However, let us not confuse a housing recovery with a bailout as Meg Handley of US News and World Report did in her recent posting titled, “Housing Recovery Bailed Out 1.4 Million Underwater Homeowners in 2012″. Underwater homeowners have not been bailed out in any way, shape, or form. The government programs designed to assist underwater homeowners have fallen woefully short of their goals. It is the perseverance of responsible homeowners that have continued to make their mortgage payments during trying economic times that is allowing people to slowly reverse the negative equity on their homes. The lack of credit being given to responsible homeowners is a slap in the face to everyone that keep making payments on their upside down home loans while policy changes such as HARP expansion (that shouldn’t even be considered a bailout) sit stalled in Washington. If you agree with me sign the White House petition to eliminate the securitization cut off date for HARP eligibility and allow re-HARPing
On January 24, 2012 President Obama delivered his State of The Union Address in which he expressed his desire to launch a broad expansion of home refinance policy that would benefit all responsible underwater home owners. A few days later The White House issued this press release outlining the plan. The White House created the following web site to inform the public and help gain support: http://www.whitehouse.gov/refi. The effort has been referred to in social media circles as #myrefi. Those in the housing industry refer to the initiative as HARP 3.0. At the President’s beckoning legislators in both the House and Senate drafted Bills to make HARP 3.0 a reality. Those Bills are as follows:advertisement
- S.2072 – Helping Homeowners Refinance Act
- H.R.6428 – Responsible Homeowner Refinancing Act of 2012
- S.3047 – Expanding Refinancing Opportunities Act of 2012
- S.3085 – Responsible Homeowners Refinancing Act of 2012
- S.2909 – Rebuilding Equity Act of 2012
- H.R.6467 – Rebuilding Equity Act of 2012
It is now a year later and we are no closer to HARP 3.0 becoming a reality than the day The President unveiled his plan. So what happened? First off, none of the proposed Bills made it out of committee for a vote on the floor of the chamber they originated in. Most were sent to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where they languished. All of these Bills officially died when the 112th Congress ended on January 3, 2013. Secondly, The newly sworn in 113th Congress has not yet taken up any Bills to address home refinancing. The partisan divide in Congress has been too much to overcome. Meanwhile, other issues such as deficit reduction and gun control have trumped the priority of helping the more than 12 million underwater home owners. Despite the lack of new legislation, Congress is not needed for some types of HARP expansion. Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Edward DeMarco has power to make changes almost unilaterally for mortgages owned by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. There have been some rumblings that President Obama is going to fire DeMarco and put in a new guy more receptive to expanding HARP and HAMP. However that would set up a fight with Republicans who seem to like DeMarco. I am sure President Obama does not want to pick this fight now with Republicans while the debt ceiling and sequestration tax cuts are still being negotiated. Underwater home owners need to mobilize on the refinance issue in order to make HARP expansion a priority once again. That is why I am circulating this “We the People” petition: Make a formal request to the FHFA to eliminate the securitization cutoff date for HARP eligibility and allow re-HARPing. If we can get 25,000 people to sign the petition it will elicit a response from the President. In doing so it will help to kickstart the discussions in Washington to expand the Home Affordable Refinance Program. Maybe you are a cynic that doesn’t believe these types of petition can make a difference, but keep in mind that this is already a policy that The White House Administration supports. A little nudge to remind them that we are still Underwater and are running out of patience can only help.
My name is Marcus, and I am an underwater homeowner advocating for the expansion of the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). This is my story. In 2007 my wife Rosalie and I bought a three story townhome in Southern New Jersey. Shortly after moving in, my wife began developing severe back problems. With our two income household now down to just one income, keeping up with payments became a chore. Worse yet, the design of our home became increasingly difficult for my wife’s worsening condition. We looked into selling so we could move to a new home more suited for her. However, the financial crisis that led to the real estate collapse had just started to sink in, and we were soon too far underwater on our mortgage for selling to be feasible. Despite our woes, we never missed a payment on anything. In early 2009 when the original HARP program was made public, I immediately called Bank of America to see if I qualified. Luckily I did qualify, and it allowed me to refinance down to a rate of 5.37%. The savings in my mortgage payment coupled with a promotion in my career stabilized our finances, but it did nothing to remedy the inconvenience our home was for my wife. The real estate crash was still in the early stages. My home continued to plummet in value throughout all of 2010 and 2011. It became apparent that my wife and I would be trapped in a home ill-suited for her needs for the foreseeable future. Our options are limited. I don’t want to ruin my credit by walking away from my mortgage. I keep my obligations. I don’t want any handouts. I just want to fix our situation as quickly as possible, and the quickest way for me to do that would be to take advantage of today’s extremely low mortgage rates and refinance into a shorter term loan. I want to save cash and build equity quickly so I can sell this house and move my family to a home more suited for my wife’s needs. Unfortunately, that isn’t permitted under the current limitations of HARP set by Edward DeMarco, The Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. I have impeccable credit with FICO scores in the high 700s but I miss the arbitrarily set cutoff date for eligibility. 2012 brought promises from the Obama Administration of HARP expansion that would have helped me. However, those efforts fizzled when proposed Bills died in committee at the end of The 112th Congress. With the elections now over, the White House seems to have shifted its attention to other issues such as the debt ceiling and gun control. Frustrated with the lack of progress, I have spearheaded an effort to mobilize underwater homeowners like myself by circulating a “We the People” petition to raise awareness and hopefully encourage Washington to make this a priority once again. You can view and sign the petition here:http://wh.gov/PQOH
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