Shoring up the housing market
President Barack Obama unveiled his $75 billion plan Wednesday to help prevent foreclosures and stabilize a staggering housing market, but some local Realtors say the measure doesn’t go far enough in addressing the problem.
Obama’s plan provides incentives to lenders to modify loans, even ones that are not yet in default, and calls for a $10 billion insurance fund to guard against further declines in home values for those with modified loans. To further encourage loan adjustments, the plan also calls for bankruptcy judges to be able to modify home mortgages.
In the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area, which had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate in 2008, many are hoping the plan will stem the rising tide of foreclosures.
There were 92 foreclosure cases filed in Lee County in January 2006. That figure rose to 481 in January 2007, and increased to 2,293 in January 2008. Last month, there were 2,074 foreclosure cases filed.
Whether Obama’s plan is the right formula to get lenders to work with borrows to adjust loans, however, is still unknown.
“There’s no mandate to make them work with homeowners. That’s the piece that’s missing,” said Cape Coral Councilmember Gloria Tate, a Realtor with Raso Realty.
One aspect of Obama’s plan is that it concentrates on helping those who own one home. This may leave Cape Coral’s investor-heavy housing market at a disadvantage.
“It’s not going to help this area much anyway,” said Gary Tasman of the Cushman & Wakefield commercial real estate firm.
Instead of having a separate foreclosure and housing plan, Tasman said Obama should have used his $787 billion economic stimulus plan, which he signed into law on Tuesday, to heal the foreclosure epidemic.
“The government should have used a large portion of the bailout money to allow homeowners to pay down their mortgage. That would have given the financial system the equity they needed to modify the loan,” Tasman said.
That also would have loosened credit markets, he added, one of the keys to reigniting a stalled economy.
Local skepticism is reflected among Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have already questioned the plan, signifying a possible repeat of the tough partisan fight to get the stimulus plan passed.
The legislation must work its way through Congress, and is very likely to undergo several changes.
Just as Realtors are following the Obama plan closely, so too, are home builders and construction companies languishing in the current housing crisis.
“There’s potential for it to help but I think it’s a little too early to tell. There’s truly not enough detail yet to find out what’s going to happen,” said Scott Hertz, co-owner of Powell Construction.
While the Obama plan focuses on helping struggling homeowners, many homeowners who aren’t in trouble are asking, “What about me?”
Tate said that’s the main complaint she’s been hearing, that responsible homeowners may be bailing out those who were careless and bought homes they could never afford.
“They don’t get an ‘atta boy,’ they just get stuck paying for it,” Tate said.