Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tales from the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe: The Effects of Subprime Lending

House Passes Economic Recovery Package

The House of Representatives passed an $819 billion economic recovery package yesterday evening. Although both policymakers and the Administration had hoped to pass a bipartisan measure, this legislation passed on a near party-line vote totaling 244-118.

This economic recovery package, entitled the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" includes several amendments regarding transportation and infrastructure projects; however, no housing-related amendments were considered on the floor or included in the final version of the House bill.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, released this press statement celebrating the passage of this bill declaring yesterday's vote a "victory for the American people."

Or, view the video below and watch Speaker Pelosi discuss this legislation on the House floor.

The Senate is expected to continue debate on it's version of the economic recovery package this week. Policymakers believe that the Senate will vote no later than next Monday, February 2.

To read more about the House-passed version of the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" check out this article in today's Washington Post.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

NHC Links Issues of Affordable Housing to Transportation

As transportation and infrastructure programs are up for federal re-authorization, campaigns like T4 America are advocating for policymakers to create smarter infrastructure policy that will ensure a sustainable transportation system to address the needs of communities across the United States.

As an active member of the T4 America Campaign, NHC continues to play an essential role in advocating for infrastructure policy reform by convening and educating housing advocates on this issue to strengthen the link between affordable housing and transportation.

Meanwhile, current debate over the economic recovery package has helped set the tone for future legislative policy regarding impending infrastructure programs.

A recent article in the New York Times points out that while the economic recovery package will provide job growth and economic stability, it lacks in innovation - especially in regards to infrastructure policy. The author, David Leonhardt, comments:

"By my count, the current package has just one major flaw. It could do a lot more to change how the government spends its money. "

With the recent change in Administration, many individuals are looking for the economic recovery package to also include fresh ideas and a reformist attitude.

Some advocates argue that current drafts of the economic recovery package showcase an old-school approach to infrastructure policy by designating additional funds for projects without giving a thorough analysis of their current condition.

Nevertheless, the T4 America Campaign earned a large victory earlier today when the House passed an amendment, introduced by Congressman Nadler (NY-D), to the economic recovery package that awarded an additional $3 billion for transit capital.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NHC Creates Comprehensive Analysis of Upcoming Economic Recovery Package

As policymakers continue to work towards an Economic Recovery Package on Capitol Hill, NHC has collected a wide variety of housing-related proposals among many organizations.

As a result, NHC created two documents that compare various housing related requests with the proposals included in both the House and Senate drafts of this important legislation.

Although NHC does not necessarily endorse or share the views expressed in these proposals, it is important to compile a document that includes popular requests from fellow housing organizations.

The Economic Recovery Package is currently split into two pieces to include both programmatic spending and tax cuts that will ensure economic recovery and job growth.

Therefore, this table includes an updated comparison of various housing-related spending requests with spending provisions included in the House and Senate versions of the Economic Recovery Package.

Meanwhile, this table compares various housing-related tax credit requests to the tax provisions included in both the House and Senate drafts of the Economic Recovery Package.

The Senate has not released an official draft of the bill language yet. The data used in these tables are from summaries available on the Senate Committee on Appropriations Web site and the Senate Finance Committee Web site. NHC will continue to update the tables as new information is received from Capitol Hill.

Opinions Diverge: Should Bankruptcy Judges Be Able to Modify Home Loans?

In today's New York Times' "Economix Blog," economist Edward Glaser delves into the foreclosure crisis and takes readers through a number of tactics up for debate right now about how to solve the problem. Among the possible solutions Glaser highlights is giving bankruptcy judges the responsibility of rewriting mortgage terms. Glaser disagrees with this approach, opining that "handing [this] process over to the judicial sector is a cop-out that will create more chaos than clarity."

While Glaser may disagree with this approach, several leading affordable housing leaders and advocacy groups support judicial modifications, as home loans are the only type of loan that is currently prohibited from modification in a court room. Michael Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in November about the need for judicial authority when it comes to loan modifications for homeowners facing bankruptcy, saying:

Today's bankruptcy law specifically bars courts from modifying just one class of loans and one type of asset—home loans that are a family's primary residence.

This makes no sense: A home is by far the most important asset a family owns. Bankruptcy courts can modify loans on corporate real estate, investor properties, the primary residences of farmers, and rich families' second or third homes. Why should the primary residence owned by an average citizen be excluded?

In addition to this, Citigroup, Inc. recently dropped its opposition to giving bankruptcy judges the right to change the terms of mortgages, signaling to legislators that action such as this must be taken in these dire times.

Most recently, this discussion has continued to unfold in the House Judiciary Committee. The committee held a hearing last week on bankruptcy legislation introduced earlier this year by Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI). This bill, H.R. 200, is entitled the "Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act of 2009" and would amend bankruptcy provisions to allow homeowners to write down their primary residence in order to modify their mortgage.

American Banker reports that the committee will vote later today on this crucial legislation.

If nothing else, the healthy debate over which tactic would best mitigate the current foreclosure crisis is a starting point from which we can all come up with a compromise to benefit who matters most: the struggling homeowner.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Video Paints Dim Outlook for Economy, Reports Foreclosure Filings up in 2008

This brief "AP Money Minute" video sheds light on the evolution of the financial crisis in the new year. The clip also cites that foreclosure filings in the U.S. rose 81 percent in 2008, as more than 860,000 properties were repossessed by lenders.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Donovan Confirmed as HUD Secretary

Shaun Donovan, former New York City Housing official and NHC Board of Trustee, was confirmed as Secretary of the United States Department on Housing and Urban Development (HUD) late last night by the US Senate.

Donovan's confirmation was highly anticipated after his friendly nomination hearing held on Tuesday, January 13.

Read more about Shaun Donovan's confirmation as HUD Secretary here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guest Blogger Ali Solis: Saving and Stabilizing America's Neighborhoods

Enterprise has been working for decades to build high quality and stable neighborhoods and now, in this foreclosure crisis, we must save America’s neighborhoods. Our role in solving the economic crisis is to stabilize communities and design solutions to ensure that this never happens again.

This “back-end” foreclosure solution is what motivated us to successfully lobby for the $4 billion Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.

Though $4 billion sounds enormous, when split between 300 localities, it is not enough. We need more NSP funds in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Obama “Stimulus”). Additional funding, in combination with some regulatory changes, will be a powerful tool in stabilizing neighborhoods.

Because we are interested in how localities plan to spend their first round of allocations, Enterprise is analyzing all 300 NSP action plans using metrics such as “number of homes rehabilitated” and “use of a green building standard.” This analysis will allow us to develop a set of best practices which will be helpful when/if additional NSP funds are made available.

We are also developing a narrative analysis for 78 localities – mostly focused on large cities and where Enterprise has a presence - that includes more detailed descriptions of program activities and how funds are being leveraged.

In the end, we will have a holistic understanding of how localities will use NSP funds, and we will share widely through publication. Such knowledge will help guide future decisions regarding program design, funding, and targeting.

As vice president of public policy and industry relations at Enterprise Community Partners, Ali Solis fosters relationships with key administration officials, Congressional, state and local policy stakeholders and national industry partners. In this capacity, she develops and advocates policies and programs that advance the development of affordable housing and sustainable communities. Enterprise Community Partners is a national nonprofit provider of development capital and expertise for creating decent, affordable homes and rebuilding communities. For 25 years, Enterprise has pioneered neighborhood solutions through public-private partnerships with community organizations, financial institutions and other public and private agencies and institutions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yesterday Marks Historic Moment: First African-American Sworn in as 44th U.S. President

On Tuesday, January 20, 2009 Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. His day started early with the Inauguration Ceremony and was followed by a celebratory luncheon in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building. The new President continued his day with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and made ten guest appearances at various Inauguration Balls that evening.

Check out photos from the day's events below:

The Masses on the Mall

Obama Taking the Presidential Oath

In the Reviewing Stand During the Inaugural Parade

The Obamas at the Youth Inauguration Ball

Photo credits: Used via a creative commons license from USA Today's Flickr page.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Housing Organizations Analyze Initial Draft of Economic Recovery Package

On Wednesday, January 14, approximately forty housing organizations sent Congressional Leadership a sign on letter urging the inclusion of additional funding for affordable housing and community development programs in the upcoming economic recovery package.

This table compares and contrasts the top ten housing-related requests agreed to by the organizations - and included in the letter - to the funding allocated in a recent draft of this bill circulating among policymakers.

It is important to note that this draft is a primitive version of the bill and tentative to change.

Senate and House Act to Get the Economy Back on Track

In addition to the $825 billion fiscal recovery package unveiled by House Democrats yesterday, President-elect Barack Obama's plan to stimulate the economy saw another victory Thursday, as the Senate voted to release the second half of the Treasury’s $700 billion financial bailout fund. To avoid a block vote by the Senate, 6 Republicans joined 46 Democrats in voting to release $350 billion in bailout money. The Senate’s vote assures that the money will be released and means that no action by the House is necessary.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Draft Bill of Economic Recovery Package Circulated Among Policymakers

The House Appropriations Committee publicized an initial draft of the economic recovery package entitled the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009." In this crucial piece of legislation, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program was designated approximately $4.19 billion to help stabilize communities facing economic downturn due to the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

It is important to note that this draft is in its primitive stages, and according to Speaker Pelosi is intended to give a better sense of priority in the package.

Guest Blogger and NHC Director of Policy Sharon Price: Saving Neighborhoods Requires Saving Residents

As the foreclosure crisis continues to expand with nearly 2 million foreclosures in 2008, and as many as 5 million foreclosures expected by the end of 2010, communities are struggling with the consequences. Neighborhoods - urban and suburban, rich and poor, new and old - are all being negatively impacted by large numbers of foreclosed homes. Foreclosures bring down the value of neighboring homes and lower tax receipts, affecting schools and other local services. Homes that sit vacant cause blight and crime, further lowering property values and affecting the overall quality of life in neighborhoods.

In July 2008, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act passed and included $3.9 billion for a Neighborhood Stabilization Program. State and local grantees have already submitted their initial plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as to how they will utilize those funds, but much planning and implementation work still needs to be done at the local level to make this program successful. While the funds are intended to buy up properties that are foreclosed and abandoned, a larger plan for re-envisioning communities needs to be developed around these funds. Besides the very large challenge of buying, rehabilitating and renting or selling foreclosed properties, there are other secondary consequences of foreclosures that must be addressed at the local level. How does a community help those who have lost their homes to foreclosure? How can localities help renters whose landlords have been foreclosed upon? How can localities pass ordinances that will stop properties from staying vacant too long?

In order for neighborhood stabilization plans to make an impact, the federal government must: 1. Supply additional dollars targeted to hard-hit communities in the upcoming economic stimulus package to rehabilitate foreclosed properties; 2. Provide assistance to help build the capacity of local groups to implement plans and forge partnerships with the private sector; and 3. Most importantly, develop a realistic strategy for reducing the number of foreclosures this year. If a large scale plan to mitigate the number of foreclosures that involves most mortgage servicers is not adopted soon, our communities will continue to suffer despite coordinated neighborhood stabilization efforts.

Sharon Price is NHC's director of policy. Price leads the National Neighborhood Stabilization Foreclosure Prevention Task Force, which is comprised of nearly sixty organizations dedicated to ending the housing crisis and stabilizing communities.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

HUD Secretary-Designate Testifies at Nomination Hearing

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary-Designate Shaun Donovan testified yesterday, January 13 before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in a friendly Nomination Hearing.

During the hearing, Donovan asserted his commitment to affordable housing and promised to fulfill this commitment as a top priority at HUD, if he should serve as Secretary.

Access Shaun Donovan's testimony and Committee Chairman Dodd's opening remarks here.

Or view the above video, which captures an exchange between Donovan and Senator Menendez (D-NJ), from yesterday's Nomination Hearing.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Guest Blogger Margery Austin Turner: Spillovers from the Foreclosure Crisis – The Challenge for Local Housing Policies

It is becoming abundantly clear that the foreclosure crisis is generating serious spill-over effects for families, communities, and local governments. When home foreclosures are relatively rare and widely scattered their impacts are generally quite limited. But the high rates of foreclosures occurring today can trigger much wider damage, spilling over to undermine the well-being of neighbors, neighborhoods, and whole communities. Foreclosed properties stand vacant, maintenance suffers, disorder and crime rise, surrounding house values decline, and costs to local government climb while property tax revenues fall.

This spillover story varies widely across neighborhoods and across markets. Toxic loans were not scattered randomly across the housing landscape. Their density and potential damage is much higher in black and Latino neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods. But even neighborhoods where subprime loans and foreclosure risks are high can weather the storm if the surrounding housing market remains reasonably strong.

The challenges for policy and practice mount in markets where housing demand is weak. Efforts to acquire and rehab vacant properties will come to naught in the absence of investors or homeowners willing to buy. Under these conditions, the only viable option may be to acquire properties and hold them in a land bank -- possibly creating parks, play spaces, or gardens -- until the market recovers.

Policymakers at every level of government have to respond quickly to prevent more foreclosures and to forestall spillovers. But we should also be looking ahead to craft neighborhood stabilization strategies that tackle longer term problems, including the shortage of moderately priced housing – particularly rentals -- in opportunity rich communities. By strategically acquiring foreclosed properties and transferring ownership to nonprofits and local public housing agencies, governments could expand affordable options in neighborhoods that were previously out of reach.

Margery Austin Turner is a widely respected expert on urban policy, racial and ethnic discrimination’s consequences for families and neighborhoods and the role of housing policies in promoting residential mobility and access to opportunity. Turner currently serves as the vice president for research at the Urban Institute.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Congressional Oversight Panel Says TARP Funds Were Not Used to Prevent Foreclosures

In a draft report to be released today, the Congressional Oversight Panel for Economic Stabilization criticizes the U.S. Treasury’s implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), saying that the Treasury has failed to answer basic questions about the program and provided little evidence demonstrating its effectiveness.

Most specifically, the panel says TARP funds have done little to mitigate foreclosures – a requirement of the law that created the $700 billion program.

Despite Interim Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability Neel T. Kashkari's assertion that the rescue plan has already begun reducing foreclosures and increasing liquidity in the financial system, Elizabeth Warren, who heads the oversight panel, believes otherwise. Warren recently told ABC news there was "no evidence the Treasury had used money from TARP to support the housing market by avoiding preventable foreclosures."

Moreover, the panel also asserts that the Treasury must use a standard system to monitor the lending practices of banks receiving capital infusions, in order to prove that these practices are working and providing liquidity. Additionally, the report criticizes the executive compensation restrictions on banks that receive TARP money, as no uniform measures for reduced executive compensation is currently in place.

Visit the Congressional Oversight Panel Web site to view additional information and news updates.

Portraits of Hope for the New Administration and the Economy

Senate's Plan to Aid Bankrupt Borrowers Gains Support from Citigroup

In an effort to stave off new foreclosures, top Democrats in the Senate have been trying to push through legislation that would allow judges set new repayment terms for mortgage holders in bankruptcy court.

On Thursday, homeowners who have declared bankruptcy came one step closer to receiving help with their mortgages, as Citigroup Inc. dropped its opposition to giving bankruptcy judges the right to change the terms of mortgages.

The proposal from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to is the first of several pieces of legislation Democrats plan to push this year to give homeowners more leverage in bargaining with banks and mortgage-servicing companies.

As one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders, members of the Senate sought Citigroup's support because they believed that the measure would pass sooner with support from the banking industry.

Despite the company's initial resistance, Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit praised the legislation as a way to help borrowers stay in their homes. "Given today's exceptional economic environment, we support its swift passage," he wrote in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

President-Elect Will Unveil Plan to Aid Foreclosure Crisis Within the Next Two Months

In an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, President-elect Barack Obama announced that his plan to reduce the amount of home foreclosures will be released within the next month or two as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.

In the interview with John Harwood, Obama said, “We've got to prevent the continuing deterioration of the housing market. That starts with foreclosures.”

Additionally, Obama elaborated on the key players in the effort, saying, “I expect to unveil plans to prevent foreclosures in consultation with (Rep.) Barney Frank and (Sen.) Chris Dodd, who've done some very good work on this, sometime in the next month or two.”

Obama also had kind words for Sheila Bair's "sense of urgency about the problem," as he will be keeping her on as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in his Administration.

Additionally, today marks the fourth day of Obama’s rally on Capitol Hill to influence lawmakers to implement a massive fiscal stimulus package sooner, rather than later. Obama and his advisers have been working with Congress to create a two-year stimulus plan that could total more than $775 billion.

You can view the full transcript from Obama's CNBC interview here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Donovan to Receive Early Confirmation Hearing

Good news is on the way for those who are anxiously awaiting New York City Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan's confirmation as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Obama Administration.

On January 13, the Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing to consider Donovan's nomination for the position of HUD secretary. The early confirmation hearing could mean a quick Senate approval for Donovan, so that he may assume leadership of HUD shortly after the President-elect is sworn in on January 20.

Donovan was recently honored with the distinguished "Public Service Award" at the NYHC/NHC 35th Anniversary Awards Luncheon in New York, NY on December 11, just days before his nomination was announced.

Read more about Donovan here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

President-elect Promotes Ideas for Stimulus Package

President-elect Barack Obama recently met with Congressional leadership to discuss plans for the economic stimulus package. While some policymakers believe that Congress will complete legislation for this plan by mid-February, the President-elect and his staff have publicly urged Congressional leadership to produce a package by late January to provide more immediate relief.

While the President-elect seeks a bipartisan measure, he has advocated for many specific provisions including those that promote job creation, tax cuts and funding for states to cover Medicaid costs.

The Washington Post published an article on this crucial matter earlier today.

Meanwhile, the most recent version of the Obama-Biden Stimulus Plan can be found here on the Obama transition Web site.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Waiting to Be Evicted: An Interesting Facet of the Foreclosure Crisis

A recent article published by online journal MSN Money reveals a unique perspective on the current foreclosure crisis. This article, entitled "When Foreclosure Doesn't Mean Eviction," points out that because the systemic collapse of the housing market has overburdened the housing financial industry, foreclosure does not always guarantee an immediate eviction for many tenants and homeowners in default. Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of NHC's research affiliate the Center for Housing Policy, is one of the experts quoted in this piece.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Frank Proposes $10 Billion for Affordable Rental Housing

U.S. Representative Barney Frank is seeking $10 billion for the development of affordable rental housing across the nation. According to an article in The Boston Globe, Frank is proposing that the U.S. Treasury buy $5 billion in low-income housing tax credits, a primary funding source for affordable housing, and also provide another $5 billion to states for stalled projects.