Who qualifies for housing plan? Owners who 'played by rules'
The president's $75 billion housing plan will help as many as 9 million U.S. homeowners refinance their mortgages if they owe more than their home is worth or avoid foreclosure if their payments are climbing beyond their reach.
The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan will help more people than expected.
But there will be no assistance for speculators who bought multiple homes as investments, or for people who bought homes they couldn't afford and then tapped all their home equity.
"The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly," President Barack Obama said during his speech at Mesa's Dobson High School.
Before Obama's speech, top White House advisers also emphasized that the goal of the plan is to stabilize the housing market for all homeowners. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner; Sheila Bair, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairwoman; and Shaun Donovan, Housing and Urban Development secretary, accompanied the president to the Valley to discuss the housing plan.
Details on exactly how it will work will be released on March 4.
Leveling out mortgages
A key element of the initiative will allow up to 5 million borrowers who owe more than their house is worth to refinance through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
That provision will help tens of thousands of homeowners in the Valley, where home prices have fallen more than 45 percent.
"I have not lost my job, so I can pay my mortgage, but it (the home) is worth less than I owe," said Sharon Bonds of Surprise. "I'm not greedy. I'm not an investor. I just have my one home. This is going to help me."
Previously, homeowners who were underwater with their mortgages, owing more than their home is currently worth, couldn't refinance with the mortgage giants. Now many in Arizona can.
Homeowners who have mortgages of more than $500,000 are not likely to qualify for aid, as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will typically guarantee only loans for less than that amount in Arizona.
The housing plan will also assist as many as 4 million U.S. homeowners facing or already in foreclosure but who still own their homes.
For this group, the federal government will provide matching funds to lenders to lower interest payments on loans. The plan requires that mortgage payments be no more than 31 percent of monthly incomes.
"We have never missed a payment," Marilyn Uhl said. She lives in Mesa with her husband, who is a mortgage broker making much less money because of the housing downturn. "We are trying to make our house payments on my public-school teacher salary. Honestly we need help," she said.
Foreclosures push down overall home values. A new White House statistic shows every foreclosure in a neighborhood can reduce home values in that area by 9 percent.
"All Americans have a stake in making this work, not just those Americans who were the victim of bad underwriting standards or in communities where you've seen foreclosures," Geithner said.
The government wants to entice lenders to work with more homeowners before they go into foreclosure.
Lenders can earn $500 for each modified loan that enables a borrower to afford the payment and avoid foreclosure.
Borrowers, who stay current on modified mortgage payments, can get up to a $5,000 reduction in the principal they owe.
Donovan said government estimates show another 6 million U.S. homeowners will go into foreclosure during the next few years without this plan. Last year, 2.2 million houses were foreclosed on nationwide.
Not everyone will get help
People who own a home but do not live in that home will not be eligible for relief, including individuals and speculators who bought multiple homes as investments.
Also, people who have too much debt and can't afford a mortgage payment even with significant rate cuts won't be eligible for the loan modifications.
"This plan will not save every home," Obama said.
"It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans."