The Housing Crisis Drags Down the Economic Recovery
By: Congressman David Scott
The national unemployment rate is around nine percent and over ten percent in my home state of Georgia. With so many people looking for work, it is no wonder the housing crisis continues to harm more and more Americans. Georgia ranks fourth in home foreclosures and first in bank failures. Around twelve percent of mortgages in my congressional district (Georgia-13) are considered over 90 days delinquent. The foreclosure rate in my district currently stands at around four percent, which is higher than the national rate. Every county in my district is listed in the top ten foreclosure areas in Georgia. These statistics are particularly troubling since they simply are not improving, despite my efforts and the efforts of my staff who are working with those in danger of losing their homes.
We need to approach the foreclosure crisis as a ground war that is winnable only with the appropriate coordination between homeowners and their lenders on a one-on-one basis. Just this past June, I hosted a foreclosure assistance event with the assistance of the U.S. Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These workshops and seminars were attended by two dozen mortgage servicers, who offered advice to Georgians who have been struggling to make their payments on time and save their homes. We were able to assist over 3,000 people at the two-day event and many of whom were helped on the spot.
While my office will continue to directly help homeowners obtain mortgage assistance, Congress needs to act aggressively as well. The Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, was designed to help financially struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying loans to a level that is affordable for borrowers in the short-term, and sustainable over time. HAMP has come under criticism for being ineffective, but that ineffectiveness is because of low bank participation rates. Of the nearly $50 billion authorized for HAMP, only $1 billion has been spent, leaving many Americans who are in need without assistance. HAMP’s lack of reach is partly because lender participation is voluntary, and few homeowners meet eligibility criteria. Because of this criticism, the Republican House majority approved legislation this past March that would defund HAMP. If this measure were to be passed into law without being replaced by another initiative that better achieves the same objective, we risk leaving thousands of Americans without assistance in saving their home. Instead of doing away with a program that does have potential, and has helped Americans in need, we should be asking ourselves how to make HAMP better succeed.
Another program that faces elimination through recent legislation is the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), which helps to mitigate the negative impact of vacant housing on our communities. NSP has provided a positive impact in my district, where there is a great need for community stabilization and revitalization. In the 13th District, Clayton County was awarded an additional $3.8 million in NSP funding to reverse the effects of foreclosures in the county. Clayton County has been hit especially hard by the economic downturn, as one in every 256 housing units there received a foreclosure filing in September 2011. If the NSP program is eliminated, then the thousands more vacant properties could leave already struggling neighborhoods at greater risk to blight and crime.
Instead of killing valuable mortgage programs, we should improve them in order to reach more Americans in need. For example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac just introduced new rules that will ease mortgage refinancing. Hopefully, these changes will expand the number of homeowners who can be helped. I will continue to use my position on the Financial Services Committee to fight for Americans who are struggling to pay their mortgages. We must aggressively fight foreclosures if we are going to turn around the U.S. economy and get people back to work.