Sue Fox, @Properties. Direct 773.816.1788
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In his State of the Union speech last night, President Barack Obama proposed a new plan to let all underwater homeowners refinance at today’s super-low mortgage rates — a proposal that could help heal the housing market and inject fresh cash into the economy.
If Congress approves it, that is. And with a Republican-controlled House that continues to block many of Obama’s initiatives, that is a big if.
The Obama administration has already offered a variety of programs aimed at stemming the tide of foreclosures, helping people modify their loans, and promoting refinancing for government-backed mortgages. But so far, the impact has been minimal and more than 3 million homes have been repossessed since the housing boom ended in 2006.
In Chicago, where the median home price has dropped about 30% since the downturn began, thousands of underwater homeowners have either lost their homes to foreclosure or been forced to sell in a short sale. Nearly half of the recent sales here now involve distressed properties. Each year, I meet dozens of people who would like to sell, if only they could get enough to pay off their mortgage.
Obama’s plan would at least help these folks hang onto their homes. Each homeowner could save an estimated $3,000 per year if he/she could refi and take advantage of the lowest rates (around 4% for a 30-year fixed mortgage) in half a century. Then they could pump those savings back into the economy, whose lifeblood is consumer spending. The Obama administration estimates that the program could benefit two to three million homeowners, according to the New York Times.
It’s a sensible plan all around, but some financial analysts are already proclaiming it dead on arrival, saying it won’t get through Congress. The sticking point seems to be a “small fee” that would be imposed on large banks to help fund the plan. Will this prove to be another instance of Congress protecting Wall Street profits at the expense of Main Street homeowners?
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