July 6, 2012
It seems that governmental efforts to save the underwater and ineligible homeowner from his own fate are reaching fever pitch. Not only do we hear today of the up to $300mm  in Agriculture Department Rural Housing Service loans that may have financed ineligible projects or borrowers with a high potential inability to repay the loans; but yesterday’s WSJ reports  on the growing call for ’eminent-domain’ powers to be used by local government officials in California to stop the “housing bust’s public blight on their city”. In yet another get-out-of-jail-free card, the officials (helped by a friendly local hedge-fund / mortgage-provider) want to use the government’s ability to forcibly acquire property to remove underwater homes, restructure the mortgage (cut principal), and hand back the home to the previously unable to pay dilemma-ridden homeowner.
Following last week’s bankruptcy in Stockton, it seems cities are increasingly desperate as they reel from the effects of the housing bust – willing instead to use government funds (provided by the working and mortgage-paying taxpayer) to bailout the underwater (and likely not paying anything at all) homeowner. As PIMCO’s Scott Simon puts it: “I don’t see how you could find it anything other than appalling”, as this would crush property prices further and drive up borrowing costs. As we noted earlier, until these mal-investments are marked to market, there will be no useful growth in our credit-bound economy but transferring wealth to the ‘mal’-investor seems like a terrible idea.
The percentage of underwater borrowers remains staggering…
But fraudulently ‘giving’ these homeowners money is not the way to go:-
The Agriculture Department’s Rural Housing Service likely loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to ineligible borrowers as part of President Obama’s stimulus package, a report by federal watchdogs has revealed.
The stimulus earmarked more than $1 billion for RHS home loans in rural communities. According to the Ag Department’s Inspector General, up to $292.3 million of those loans may have financed ineligible projects, or gone to borrowers that did not meet the loan program’s requirements due to their potential inability to repay the loans.
Rural Development field-level personnel made these questionable determinations because they were not sufficiently trained on how to either conduct or adequately document proper determinations; did not have an effective second party review process in place to catch errors; and did not have sufficient guidance on the characteristics and requirements needed for a property to become eligible. Rural Development conducted a follow-up review of the questionable loans and agreed that they were not fully processed in accordance with regulations or handbook requirements.
A handful of local officials in California who say the housing bust is a public blight on their cities may invoke their eminent-domain powers to restructure mortgages as a way to help some borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth.
Investors holding the current mortgages predict the move will backfire by driving up borrowing costs and further depress property values. “I don’t see how you could find it anything other than appalling,” said Scott Simon, a managing director at Pacific Investment Management Co., or Pimco, a unit of Allianz SE.
Eminent domain allows a government to forcibly acquire property that is then reused in a way considered good for the public—new housing, roads, shopping centers and the like. Owners of the properties are entitled to compensation, which is usually determined by a court.
But instead of tearing down property…
The municipalities, about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles, would acquire underwater mortgages from investors and cut the loan principal to match the current property value. Then, they would resell the reduced mortgages to new investors.
The seizure of home-mortgage liens, but not the underlying homes, hasn’t ever been conducted through eminent domain, as far as the group’s principals can tell. And while they believe they have a strong legal case, they expect loan owners to sue.
“California legal precedent and political posture favor the program and constitute an ideal proving ground,” Mortgage Resolution Partners said in a presentation to investors reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The document said it would begin with a $5 billion effort in California that could grow to three million mortgages as part of a $500 billion multistate effort.
A letter sent last week to city leaders from 18 trade associations, led by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, warned that such a move “could actually serve to further depress housing values” by making banks less willing to lend. The plan’s backers are unfazed.