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'HOPE for Homeowners' Program Appears Hopeless

Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH)In its first two weeks of existence, the Federal Housing Authority’s HOPE for Homeowners program, meant to help as many as 400,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure, has fielded a grand total of 42 applications.

The program set aside $3.9 billion to help people in "neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures" renegotiate their loans, but as Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) noted in yesterday’s congressional hearings on the financial crisis, the effort appears to have fallen flat and now expects to receive only a fraction of the applications it was designed to manage.

"The regulators are saying that by next fall, it will only be 20,000 -- far short of the 400,000 that we envisioned when we passed that legislation," LaTourette said.

The program, launched by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, would allow homeowners who took out mortgages before the beginning of 2008 and can’t afford their loans to apply for a new 30-year mortgage – up to a value of $550,440 – backed by the Federal Housing Administration.

The program is a marked exception to the impasse that has emerged among Bush officials on the question of what, if anything, to do about troubled mortgages. Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, has called for the Treasury Department to use part of the $700 billion bailout to buy up distressed loans, but Treasury has so far resisted her calls.

Yesterday, RealityTrac reported that foreclosure rates leapt 25 percent from this period last year – a figure that would suggest people would be eager for a program that helped them get a modified, government-backed mortgage.

We’ve contacted Hope for Homeowners to ask them why the numbers are so low. We’ll let you know when we hear back.

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