Thursday, April 17, 2008

Looming deficit impedes federal housing agency

As the president and Congress propose extending the benefits of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insurance to hundreds of thousands of homeowners in need of mortgage assistance, the FHA itself faces a deficit for the first time in its history due to problems with its seller-financed downpayment loan program. If these problems continue, the agency could face a $1.4 billion deficit by 2009

  • The seller-financed downpayment program today accounts for 35 percent of all FHA loans, up from 2 percent in 2000. Under the program, sellers cover the buyer’s downpayment and typically add it to the total cost being financed through a mortgage. These loans became more popular as homebuyers struggling to qualify for a home abandoned conventional FHA loans in favor of subprime mortgages. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of conventional home loans insured by the agency plunged from 1.3 million to about 314,000. Congress has been urged to take action to discontinue these loans, but opponents of such an action argue the program is necessary to help first-time buyers.
  • Despite worries about FHA’s future, since September the agency has helped more than 150,000 homeowners refinance their mortgages. The president hopes to increase that number to 400,000 by the end of the year, and Congress is considering legislation that would expand FHA programs to even greater numbers of Americans.
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