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Obama's Mortgage Plan Adds to Housing Mess

It's no surprise that a report from the Wharton School released about a week ago estimated that the FHA would, at some point, be in need of a bailout in the range of $50 billion to $100 billion. It said the timing of the bailout depends on increases or decreases in home values. It also cautioned that the FHA is currently in violation of its capital reserve requirements.

All of this may be a surprise to HUD Secretary Shaun Donavan. On the agency's website, is says, "The agency has instituted reforms that have solidified the Federal Housing Administration's financial position and protected the taxpayer against risk, while still preserving FHA's mission of providing responsible access to homeownership." Maybe his confidence comes from the 2009 appointment of FHA's first ever chief risk officer, Robert Ryan. Prior to this role, Ryan worked for 26 years at Freddie Mac. Or maybe its Tozer's experience at National City Mortgage, a company that was acquired using TARP funds by PNC Financial Services in 2008.

President Obama may be surprised by this, too. One of the "We Can't Wait" initiatives makes it easier for underwater Fannie and Freddie mortgage holders to refinance. Unless these mortgage holders change their risk profiles, this initiative is likely to add to their record bailout of $169 billion.

The Wharton report discusses why the FHA has taken on these extraordinary levels of risk. It points to a decision by HUD to increase loan volume in order to cover rising foreclosures. In 2007, the FHA insured 4.1% of aggregate home purchases. In 2010, it was 19.1%. Who would quadruple their bet on the housing market in the past few years? Someone too big too fail. It makes you think the Occupy Wall Street cause should move to Occupy the White House.

With the government's mortgage meddling in such a mess, you have to wonder why the administration seems keen to meddle more. Last week, a senior White House official commenting on "We Can't Wait" said: The White House plans to take full advantage of "the sense of inequality in our economy. This is "the strongest current running through both our country and our politics right now."

Is bringing ownership to people at a high risk of foreclosure part of this focus on inequality? Does the White House think that social inequality has a stronger current than the economy? Maybe that's the reason the President can't get Republicans to follow his lead, and why his approval rating is under 50%. And maybe that's why the recovery in housing is looking bleaker rather than better.
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