Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Washington Revives the Mortgage Cramdown

With foreclosures continuing to climb and midterm elections just a year away, Congress once again is preparing to tackle the mortgage crisis aggressively. High on many a wish list: a renewed push to allow so-called cramdown, which would let bankruptcy judges adjust the terms of home loans to give borrowers relief.

The banking industry hates cramdown from the idea of cramming deals down lenders' throats, but Democrats argue that earlier efforts to fix the housing mess have not done as well as hoped. Moody's MCO estimates that 3.8 million homes will enter foreclosure this year, up 41% from 2008. No surprise, then, that lawmakers are getting an earful. "We have folks calling our office every day," says Senator Jeff Merkley D-Ore., who is pressing Treasury to streamline its program to restructure mortgages.

"TRYING TO LIGHT A FIRE"So Capitol Hill is poring over more ideas. One bill, introduced by Senator Jack Reed D-R.I. on Sept. 30 and co-sponsored by Merkley and two other senators, would force lenders to pause before they foreclose and to offer borrowers a break on their mortgage bill if they qualify for help under the Treasury program. Under the same proposed law, states could require mortgage servicers to enter mediation with borrowers before being allowed to foreclose. The bill also would give the states $6.4 billion to help homeowners stay put. "We're really trying to light a fire under the Administration," Merkley says.

Others in the Senate are considering the temporary suspension of home-loan payments or brief monthly mortgage subsidies for unemployed homeowners. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank D-Mass. is drafting similar legislation.