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Obama Refinancing Plan a Work in Progress

By Steve Cook Real Estate Economy Watch   |   Sept. 9, 2011 at 10:08 AM
President Obama surprised some people by including a promise to launch a modest new effort to help homeowners refinance. Among them, apparently, is the federal official who will be responsible for implementing it.

The new refinancing initiative announce last night "would put more than $2,000 a year in a family's pocket, and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices," Obama said.

However, in a statement this afternoon, the acting head of the Federal Housing Financie Administration, Edward DeMarco, made it sound as if no new program is planed but his agency "has been reevaluating an existing program" and is carefully reviewing the mechanics to identify possible enhancements."

The program under review is the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has beed far less than a success. It was launched with great fanfare in 2009 to help "as many as 5 million homeowners" refinance their mortgage but to date, the program has helped fewer than one million. Now it is plagued with finger pointing and frustrated homeowners.

Reuters reported today that the lack of details in last night's announcement reflects a lack of consensus between the White House and FHFA, which DeMarco confirmed by his unusual statement, which was remarkably out of synch with the President's speech.

"FHFA staff has been analyzing these issues and discussing with a range of stakeholders various "frictions" in HARP and what may be done to ease those frictions. The final outcome of this review remains uncertain but FHFA believes this undertaking is worthwhile and consistent with our conservator responsibilities," concluded DeMarco.

"Ease frictions?" "Remains uncertain?" How long will that take? What about helping homeowners? When to they get their $2,000? Looks like this one is far from being ready for prime time.

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