The new housing legislation became law today when the president signed the bill this morning. Part of the new law is the “HOPE for Homeowners Act of 2008” which is designed to help people on the cusp of foreclosing. Here is a key excerpt taken directly from a summary page of the new legislation describing the new foreclosure-preventing HOPE loans:
B. Summary of the â€œHOPE for Homeowners Act of 2008″
The “HOPE for Homeowners Act of 2008” creates a new, temporary, voluntary program within FHA to back FHA-insured mortgages to distressed borrowers. The new mortgages offered by FHA-approved lenders will refinance distressed loans at a significant discount for owner-occupants at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure. In exchange, homeowners will share future appreciation with FHA.
The program is built on five principles:
1. Long-term affordability. The program is built on the idea, expressed by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, that creating new equity for troubled homeowners is likely to be a more effective way to avoid foreclosures. New loans will be based on a family’s ability to repay the loan, ensuring affordability and sustainable homeownership.
2. No investor or lender bailout. Investors and/or lenders will have to take significant losses in order to benefit from the proceeds of the loans refinanced with government insurance. However, these losses would be less than the losses associated with foreclosure.
3. No windfall for borrowers. Borrowers will share their new equity and future appreciation equally with FHA. Borrowers will pay for the FHA insurance.
4. Voluntary participation. This will be a voluntary program. No lenders, servicers, or investors will be compelled to participate.
5. Restore confidence, liquidity, and transparency. Credit markets are fearful and frozen in part because banks and other financial institutions do not know what their subprime mortgages and related securities are worth. The uncertainty is forcing lenders to hoard capital and stop the lending necessary for economic growth. This program will help restore confidence and get markets flowing again.
Eligible Borrowers. Only owner-occupants who are unable to afford their mortgage payments are eligible for the program. No investors or investor properties will qualify. Homeowners must certify, under penalty of law, that they have not intentionally defaulted on their loan to qualify for the program and must have a mortgage debt to income ratio greater than 31 percent as of March 1, 2008. Lenders must document and verify borrowers’ income with the IRS.
New Loan Amount. The size of the new FHA-insured loan will be lesser of the amount the borrower can afford to repay, as determined by the current affordability requirements of FHA; or, 90% of the current value of the home. Loans must be 30-year, fixed rate loans.
Equity & Appreciation Sharing. In order to avoid a windfall to the borrower created by the new 90% loan-to-value FHA-insured mortgage, the borrower must share the newly-created equity and future appreciation equally with FHA. This obligation will continue until the borrower sells the home or refinances the FHA-insured mortgage. Moreover, the homeowner’s access to the newly created equity will be phased-in over 5 years.
Eligible Mortgages. In order to protect against adverse selection, the program prohibits the Secretary from paying an insurance claim whenever the representations and warranties required to be made by lenders are violated, or in cases in which a borrower has an early payment default and misses the first payment. The Act provides the Board the authority to establish other protections against adverse selection, such as requiring seasoning for certain higher risk loans before they can be insured under the program. Appraisers of property insured by FHA must be certified by the state where the property is located, or by a nationally recognized professional appraisal organization, and have demonstrated verifiable education in FHA appraisal requirements.
Existing Subordinate Liens. Before participating in this program, all subordinate liens must be extinguished. This will have to be done through negotiation with the first lien holder.
Qualified Safe Harbor. The legislation provides servicers with an incentive to participate in the program by offering a safe harbor against legal liability.
Program Size. The program is authorized to insure up to $300 billion in mortgages and is expected to serve approximately 400,000 homeowners.
Program Sunset. The program will begin October 1, 2008 and sunset on September 30, 2011. CBO say the program will net nearly $250 million for taxpayers. The program is paid for by using part of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund; the GSE bill provides a further $2 billion cushion for the government by establishing a reserve fund at Treasury over ten years. If the program costs less than projected, the unused funds are returned to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. If the program more than pays for itself (as was the case during the Roosevelt Administration), any excess savings are dedicated to reducing the national debt.