HUD Cuts To Devastate Mortgage Counseling Agencies Across Nation, By Ben Hallman, IWATCHNEWS.ORG


Housing counselors at Western Tennessee Legal Services were plenty busy, even before one of the region’s largest employers, a Goodyear tire factory in tiny Union City, shut its doors in July.

The plant closing, which put nearly 2,000 employees out of work in a rural part of the state, meant more work for counselors like Emma Covington. Covington said she already takes 18 to 20 calls a day and meets in person with people who need counseling on foreclosures and other housing issues.

Now, like many of its clients, the legal nonprofit will have to make do with less.

Earlier this year, Congress defunded the $88 million grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that helped support more than 7,500 housing counselors across the country, including those at Western Tennessee. Funds run out Sept. 30.

The cuts come at a terrible time, say counseling advocates.

In the second quarter of 2011, more than 3.4 million home mortgages nationwide were 90 or more days delinquent or in the foreclosure process. More than one in five mortgage borrowers owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to government data.

The counseling money may not be coming back. The House Appropriations Committee recently approved a budget for 2012 that also doesn’t include any HUD housing counseling dollars. A group of senators is trying to restore funding, but even if successful, it is unlikely that funds will reach counselors before next spring, at the earliest.

The looming gap in funding and continued uncertainty about the program’s future means layoffs and reduced hours for counselors at nonprofits across the country at a time when demand for their services is greater than ever.

“These are rough times for our clients and our staff,” said Steven Xanthopoulos, the executive director at Western Tennessee Legal Services. “We are faced with some hard decisions.”

Western Tennessee may lay off as many as four employees when its $1.2 million HUD grant runs out at the end of this month, Xanthopoulos said. Many more counselors could lose their jobs at the 25 rural legal aid groups throughout Appalachia and the Mississippi River delta that the nonprofit supports with its share of the grant money, he said.

The National Council of La Raza supports 50 housing counseling agencies that helped 65,000 families last year with about $1.2 million from HUD. Thirty of those agencies will close their doors if Congress does not restore the HUD housing counseling funding, said Graciela Aponte, a legislative analyst.

“We are in the middle of foreclosure crisis,” Aponte said. “This is devastating for our families.”

HUD grants also support one of the nation’s biggest housing counseling training programs. NeighborWorks America used a $3 million HUD grant to fund 1,200 housing counseling training scholarships to its mobile nonprofit training university last year. When the HUD money goes away, so will those scholarships, a spokesman said.

The program – whose cost is modest, by Washington standards – is being suspended at least in part because HUD is a full year behind distributing the grant money to housing groups.

“HUD has been slow to distribute the money and Congress zeroed in on that,” said Candace Mason, senior director of housing and national grants at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

In recent testimony , a HUD official said that the agency has a plan to reduce the distribution timeframe to 180 days.

Some have questioned the effectiveness of the programs but the Government Accountability Office cited several studies that show counseling helps struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and prevent them from lapsing back into default – especially if the counseling occurs early in the foreclosure process.

One study cited by the GAO found that clients who received counseling were 1.7 times as likely to be removed from the foreclosure process by their mortgage servicer as borrowers who did not. Clients who got loan modifications paid an average of $267 a month less than they would have otherwise, according to the study.

Counseling advocates say there appears to be general antipathy toward HUD, an oft-criticized federal agency, from some members of Congress related to the agencies past failings.

Congress also hasn’t yet provided $45 million mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law for HUD to set up a new Office of Housing Counseling, which will set counseling standards and dole out grants to agencies.

Here, too, HUD has been slow to act. According to the GAO, a working group at HUD is “in the process of developing a plan” for how to organize that new office, but is unable to say when it will submit it.

HUD already has an office that seems to have a similar function: the Office of Single-Family Housing. HUD officials say the primary change needed to create the new office is the reassignment of staffers who work on housing counseling activities, but also have other responsibilities.

Staffers at the House committees responsible for the funding did not comment for this story.

Foreclosure prevention made up the single-biggest slice of any housing counselor’s workload in 2009 and 2010, according to HUD, with nearly half of all queries coming from homeowners in trouble. What makes the HUD grants so valuable, housing counselors say, is that the money can be spent to help people resolve a variety of housing woes, in addition to foreclosure.

For example, the Federal Housing Administration requires seniors who want a Home Equity Conversion, or reverse mortgage to first receive counseling. Since 2005, more than 486,000 seniors received one of those loans, about 3.6 percent of all counseling activity, according to HUD

Many of these seniors, especially in rural areas, have nowhere else to turn, said Covington, the Tennessee housing counselor. “People can’t afford to travel to our office much less to Memphis and Nashville,” she said.

Homes on the Hill, a Columbus, Ohio, counseling service, is already operating on a razor-thin margin in terms of both budget and staffing, said executive director Stephen Torsell. Counselors have

had their hours cut and clients have faced long waits for an appointment – several weeks in many cases.

The nonprofit receives HUD money through La Raza. The annual grant is quite small—about $75,000 per year—but like other housing nonprofits, Homes on the Hill uses the HUD money to solicit matching funds from private donors.

There is still a chance that Congress will at least partially fund the housing counseling program for 2012. A Senate subcommittee recently signed off on $60 million in funding for 2012, but whether the funding makes it into law is uncertain

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Debate on Reverse-Mortgage Risks Heats Up, by Maya Jackson Randall, WSJ.com


A report by Consumers Union and other advocacy groups has ignited a debate about whether reverse mortgages are too risky for house-rich seniors in need of extra cash, just as the nation’s new consumer agency is starting to examine the issue.

The groups are urging the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to boost oversight of the complex loans and to move to fight scams and deceptive marketing. Other groups, however, defend reverse mortgages.

The call for increased oversight comes as the market for reverse mortgages is poised for expansion as the baby-boom generation retires. Meanwhile, lenders are aggressively marketing reverse mortgages, tapping celebrities such as actor and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson as spokesmen and holding seminars at senior centers to sell the loans.

Most reverse mortgages are made under the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program, begun in 1988 and administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. A borrower must be at least 62 years old and have paid off all or most of the mortgage. Instead of a monthly mortgage payment, the borrower receives payments as a lump sum, monthly cash advances or line of credit. When the homeowner dies, moves or sells the house, the loan must be repaid.

The consumer advocates say seniors should use reverse mortgages—which allow older Americans to tap into the equity in their home—only as a last resort because fees can be high and the loans could affect eligibility for government-assistance programs such as Medicaid. Also, if borrowers deplete home equity, they won’t have much to pass on to heirs and could have a harder time funding long-term care, the groups warn.

Advocates also worry that if more isn’t done to help vulnerable consumers understand the risks, the expanding reverse-mortgage market could melt down just like the subprime-mortgage market did ahead of the financial crisis.

“The public, policy makers and legislators should be aware that this time, yesterday’s subprime lenders are now preying on a growing elderly population who are trying to remain financially independent in their own homes during a depressed economy,” says the report from Consumers Union, the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and the Council on Aging Silicon Valley released last week.

Defending reverse mortgages, groups such as RetireSafe and the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association say the report fails to acknowledge recent pro-consumer changes.

“I think they’re rattling the cages here without having much concrete to offer or any evidence to back up their allegations that there are widespread problems,” said Peter Bell, president of the NRMLA.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, has found examples of potentially misleading claims in loan-marketing materials. Also, the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned in a March 2009 bulletin that loan officers and real-estate agents have exploited reverse mortgages to defraud senior citizens.

Congress directed the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to study reverse mortgages. According to a bureau official who works closely on mortgage-related issues, the bureau is beginning to examine reverse mortgages and plans to build on the Federal Reserve’s and GAO’s efforts to improve disclosures and prevent misleading advertising.

The advocacy groups say reverse mortgages are reasonable for some seniors in foreclosure who don’t plan to move into assisted living and for low-income seniors who lack other retirement assets, don’t qualify for lower-cost alternatives and can’t meet their current mortgage obligation.

But most seniors should consider alternatives, the groups say.

Still, Barbara Stucki, a vice president at the National Council on Aging, expects homes to become more popular sources of income for retirees, given that fewer Americans have defined-benefit pensions and more Americans are living longer after retirement.

“Today’s retirement realities are daunting, and when you combine that with the economic challenges, people are going to be tapping the equity in their homes,” she said. “We want to make sure that options like reverse mortgages are viable and properly regulated.”

The industry itself doesn’t seem opposed to new regulation.

“We understand that the demographics are in our favor. The market will grow, and the need will grow because people need to fund longevity, but it will only grow if consumers feel the products are fair and the people who offer them are trustworthy,” said Mr. Bell of the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. “If the regulatory regime helps get us there, that’s great.”

Write to Maya Jackson Randall at Maya.Jackson-Randall@dowjones.com

HUD’s PowerSaver Program to Offer Financing for Energy-Saving Home Improvements, Nationalmortgageprofessional.com


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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan have announced a new pilot program that will offer creditworthy borrowers low-cost loans to make energy-saving improvements to their homes. Backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), these new FHA PowerSaver loans will offer homeowners up to $25,000 to make energy-efficient improvements of their choice, including the installation of insulation, duct sealing, doors and windows, HVAC systems, water heaters, solar panels, and geothermal systems.

HUD and FHA developed PowerSaver as part of the Recovery Through Retrofit initiative launched in May 2009 by Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force to develop federal actions that would expand green job opportunities in the United States and boost energy savings by improving home energy efficiency. The announcement is part of an 18-month-long interagency effort facilitated by White House Council on Environmental Quality with the Office of the Vice President, 11 departments and agencies and six White House offices.

“The initiatives announced today are putting the Recovery Through Retrofit report’s recommendations into action—giving American families the tools they need to invest in home energy upgrades,” said Vice President Biden. “Together, these programs will grow the home retrofit industry and help middle class families save money and energy.”

More homeowners are interested in making their homes energy efficient, according to industry forecasts. Yet options are still limited for financing home energy improvements, especially for the many homeowners who are unable to take out a home equity loan or access an affordable consumer loan. HUD today published a notice seeking the participation of a limited number of mortgage lenders in the two-year pilot program slated to begin in early 2011.

“HUD and FHA are committed to lowering the cost and expanding the availability of affordable financing for home energy retrofits,” said Secretary Donovan. “PowerSaver will help more homeowners afford common sense, cost saving improvements to their homes, and will create jobs for contractors, installers and energy auditors across the country.”

Lenders will be selected to participate in the PowerSaver pilot based on their capacity and commitment to provide affordable home energy improvement financing. Lenders will be required to serve communities that have already taken affirmative steps to expand home energy improvements. HUD will help lenders identify such markets—which exist in many suburban, rural and urban areas across the country.

“PowerSaver provides lenders with a new product option to serve a potentially growing market,” said David H. Stevens, FHA Commissioner. “We believe there are a number of lenders who will be interested in working with us to help save energy and money for homeowners, while creating jobs and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”

PowerSaver loans will be backed by the FHA—but with significant “skin in the game” from private lenders. FHA mortgage insurance will cover up to 90 percent of the loan amount in the event of default. Lenders will retain the remaining risk on each loan, incentivizing responsible underwriting and lending standards. FHA will provide streamlined insurance claims payment procedures on PowerSaver loans. In addition, lenders may be eligible for incentive grant payments from FHA to enhance benefits to borrowers, such as lowering interest rates.

 

“Home energy retrofits are good investments that save families money,” said Ginnie Mae President Ted Tozer. “As the financing arm of HUD, we are proud to support this important home-improvement segment of the housing market and look forward to working with lenders and FHA to develop appropriate secondary market options.”

PowerSaver has been carefully designed to meet a need in the marketplace for borrowers who have the ability and motivation to take on modest additional debt to realize the savings over time from a home energy improvement. PowerSaver loans are only available to borrowers with good credit, manageable overall debt and at least some equity in their home (maximum 100% combined loan to value).

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

 

Fha Loan Limits Get More Flexible, Thetruthaboutmortgage.com


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A FHA loan requirement that the sum of all liens not exceed the maximum geographical loan limit has been eliminated, according to a Mortgagee Letter from HUD.

Previously, the sum of all liens (first and second mortgages) could not exceed the geographical maximum mortgage limit for both purchase and refinance transactions.

In other words, even if the first mortgage was below the maximum loan limit, an associated second mortgage could push it beyond the limit and disqualify the loan from FHA financing.

For example, in Los Angeles county the maximum loan amount for a FHA loan is $729,750, meaning a loan of that size wouldn’t qualify for FHA financing if it had a second mortgage behind it.

Going forward, only the FHA-insured first lien is subject to this maximum loan limit.

However, FHA still requires that the combined loan amount of the FHA-insured first mortgage and any subordinate lien(s) not exceed the applicable FHA loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, which is generally 96.5 percent.

The FHA has made a number of changes recently to improve its balance sheet, including the introduction of a minimum credit score requirement and higher mortgage insurance premiums.

FHA loans accounted for a staggering 37 percent of all first mortgages in 2009, up from 26 percent in 2008 and just seven percent in 2007.

New HUD program offers up to 24 months of mortgage assistance to unemployed, by CHRISTINE RICCIARDI, Housingwire.com


 

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A new program run by the Department of Housing and Urban Development allows delinquent borrowers who are unemployed or suffering from a severe medical condition to receive assistance with mortgage payments for up to 24 months.

The Emergency Homeowners Loan Program offers up to $50,000 to eligible borrowers at a 0% interest rate. HUD officials called it a true bridge loan because all deferred payments are forgivable provided the borrower lives in a home and remains current on payments for five consecutive years.

But the program isn’t for everyone. Brian Sullivan, public affairs representative for HUD, said borrowers must have a consistent track record of making mortgage payments on time. A household’s yearly income also may not exceed 120% of the area median income and must have had its income reduced by at least 15% in two years due to sudden unemployment, underemployment or a medical condition.

The property must be the borrower’s primary residence and at risk of foreclosure.

“This is about families who were paying their mortgage, were current, were working, and then something happen,” Sullivan told HousingWire. “It’s for low- to middle-income, working families.”

HUD announced plans for the program in August, after the agency was designated under Dodd-Frank to create an emergency homeowners assistance program with an allocated budget of $1 billion. Funding through the new program is only available in the 32 states and Puerto Rico that were not otherwise funded by the Hardest Hit Fund.

Borrowers must meet with their local NeighborWorks division or state finance agencies with HUD approved standards to receive funding. NeighborWorks is a national nonprofit organization created by Congress to provide financial support, technical assistance and concealing services to homeowners.

HUD hopes to begin accepting applications by the end of the year. HUD announced Tuesday how the $1 billion would be divided by state (chart below, in dollars):

Write to Christine Ricciardi.

Reverse Mortgage Applications Rise to Highest Level Since September 2009, Reversemortgagedaily.com


The number of reverse mortgage applications increased 8.1% to 9,686 in August according to the latest report from the Federal Housing Administration.

While down 12.4% from the same period last year, the application totals for August are the highest since September 2009.
The run up in applications before the end of FHA’s fiscal year is normal and is likely to increase as reverse mortgage borrowers rush to complete the process before the Department of Housing and Urban Development lowers the principal limit factors in October.

The total amount of FHA applications for the month was 200,907 with a significant rise in prior FHA refinance cases. This included 86,569 purchase transactions, 104,652 refinance cases and 9,686 reverse mortgage cases. Included in the refinance count were 55,103 prior FHA’s (46.9% over last month), and 49,549 conventional conversions. In addition, 39 H4H cases were included in the refinance total.

There were also 6,645 HECM’s insured in August and 6,175 were the traditional reverse mortgage type.

As of the end of August, FHA has 558,316 mortgages in a serious delinquency category, yielding a seriously default rate of 8.5 percent. This includes all mortgages in bankruptcy, in foreclosure and 90 days or more delinquencies.

So far this fiscal year 270,964 claims have been paid. The bulk of these were for loss mitigation retention (164,744) and property conveyance (87,807).