On May 8, FHFA Director Mel Watt spoke at the 22nd Annual Economic Summit, focusing on the agency’s conservatorship activities with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Most significantly, Director Watt announced that the agency is extending the GSEs’ participation in HAMP and HARP until the end of 2016. Since their 2009 inception, the two programs have relieved many borrowers of high monthly payments. HARP, allowing borrowers who regularly make their mortgage payments to refinance their loans and take advantage of low income rates, and HAMP, providing significant payment reductions tied to borrowers’ income, have prevented a number of foreclosures. Since HARP and HAMP were never intended to be permanent programs, this will be FHFA’s final extension of the GSEs’ participation. Looking forward, the agency plans to “consider how best to build on the lessons of HAMP for 2017 and beyond,” exploring possible streamlined modifications and refinance solutions for borrowers.
On August 25, FHFA announced that the GSEs will implement a new refinancing offering for borrowers having high LTVs who meet certain criteria. The new offering contains a number of similarities to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), including not subjecting eligible borrowers to a minimum credit score, not establishing a maximum debt-to-income ratio or maximum LTV, and often not requiring an appraisal. Dissimilarities from HARP include not imposing eligibility cut-off dates and allowing borrowers to use the offering more than once to refinance their mortgage. Borrowers will not have access to the new offering until October 2017. As such, the FHFA directed the GSEs to extend HARP through September 30, 2017, ensuring that “high LTV borrowers who are eligible for HARP will not be without a refinance option while the new refinance offering is being implemented.”
On June 25, the FHFA announced that it is taking new steps to expand the reach of HARP. As part of that effort, FHFA Director Mel Watt will participate in a series of town hall-style events to discuss the benefits of HARP and encourage eligible borrowers to participate in the program. The FHFA also launched an interactive online map that provides the number of estimated borrowers eligible for HARP in every zip code, county, and metropolitan statistical area in the country.
On January 22, Michael Stegman, Treasury Department Counselor for Housing Finance Policy stated in remarks to an industry conference that the Treasury Department opposes expansion of the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) to include loans originated after the current May 31, 2009 cut-off date. Treasury believes that few loans originated after that date are underwater, and that expanding the eligibility date would only prolong market and investor uncertainties. Treasury also does not support efforts by some local jurisdictions to employ eminent domain to seize and restructure underwater mortgages, stating that the administration instead supports legislation to increase refinancing opportunities. Dr. Stegman also discussed housing finance reform generally—he expressed support for the ongoing Senate efforts to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and indicated that the Treasury Department plans to facilitate reform of the private label securities sector by holding “a series of conversations with relevant regulators, market participants, and other stakeholders.”
On September 23, the FHFA launched a nationwide campaign to educate borrowers about HARP. The FHFA explains that the campaign is designed to encourage homeowners who have been making their mortgage payments, but who owe more than their home is worth, to contact their current lender or any other mortgage lender offering HARP refinances to review their refinancing options. As part of this campaign, FHFA has launched a new website and is working with mortgage companies across the U.S. to help reach homeowners who may qualify.