After more than a year of ineffective attempts to stem the foreclosure crisis, the Obama administration this week may be edging toward acknowledging reality.
This sick housing market isn’t going to heal itself, and won’t get better with the band-aids they’ve applied so far. The stakes are high not just for the homeowners: without some stability in housing, the rest of the economy can’t heal either.
The administration announced today that it would begin to encourage banks to write down the principal when modifying borrower’s underwater mortgages. Bank of America also said this week it would tiptoe into principal reduction.
Time, and follow-through will tell whether the administration intends the principal write-downs as another band-aid or something more substantial. Time will also tell whether the administration will fight for write-downs or wilt in the face of the inevitable backlash. It’s also important to note that all of the administration’s foreclosure initiatives rely on the voluntary cooperation of lenders, with modest incentives paid by the government.
There is every reason for healthy skepticism of the administration and the banks’ ability to tackle the problem. As John Taylor, president of the National Reinvestment Coalition testified before a congressional panel this week: “We rush to give banks tax breaks, but we dawdle to help homeowners who through no fault of their own lost their jobs because of the economic crisis or bought defective loans that caused the economic crisis.”