Free Markets, Free People

Making Homes Affordable Act

Another Program FAIL?

It appears a number of economists and financial experts see it as a failure. Not only a failure but an impediment to recovery.

The Obama administration’s $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.

The harm it has done is precisely the same harm that many of the larger programs have done, and something we warned about here at QandO at the time. Instead of letting the market take the hit it deserved for the bad  risk it undertook and giving it an opportunity to digest that and then begin recovering, both the Bush and Obama administration’s chose to try and manage the crash and avoid the pain. Consider this particular program a microcosm of what many experts believe we’ll see happen in the larger economy. And, as usual, while it was something done with best of intentions it has run afoul of the Law of Unintended consequences and as critics are saying, has seemingly done more harm than good.

Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Homes Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.

As a result, desperate homeowners have sent payments to banks in often-futile efforts to keep their homes, which some see as wasting dollars they could have saved in preparation for moving to cheaper rental residences. Some borrowers have seen their credit tarnished while falsely assuming that loan modifications involved no negative reports to credit agencies.

On the other side of the program are the lending institutions who some experts claim are using the program to delay an honest accounting of the toxic loans they have outstanding.

Only after banks are forced to acknowledge losses and the real estate market absorbs a now pent-up surge of foreclosed properties will housing prices drop to levels at which enough Americans can afford to buy, he argues.

Instead, we’ve chosen to string this all out:

Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

In other words, government intrusion – with the best of intentions – has impeded the market’s ability to properly reconcile the losses and begin recovering and learn from the experience. Instead, both homeowners and financial institutions have been given false hope that they can avoid this pain and somehow benefit from the program without having to do what is really necessary. And this false hope, upon which reality will eventually intrude, is simply delaying the financial reckoning and further delaying a real recovery. Once that is done:

“Then the carpenters can go back to work,” Mr. Katari said. “The roofers can go back to work, and we start building housing again. If this drips out over the next few years, that whole sector of the economy isn’t going to recover.”

The article goes on to discuss proposed fixes, tweaks and alternatives. But the bottom line is the existing program doesn’t help, but instead hurt the chances for recovery within the housing market. And that’s the lesson here. There is pain in life, but pain’s usefulness is its warning not to do what one did to incur it and to modify behavior in the future to avoid it. The problem with removing the pain quotient is the lessons necessary to modify future behavior and avoid repeating the painful activity are lost. Additionally, by attempting to avoid the pain, the present problem isn’t quickly fixed, but instead drags out as false hope does its damage before reality finally takes its course.

No one wants to see people lose their homes, but the fact remains many took on homes they couldn’t afford and many lending institutions backed their acquisition. This program isn’t going to make their homes more affordable to them nor is it going to make their loans good ones. Time for the players, not the taxpayers, to pay the piper. Government needs to back away. Until they do and the financial reckoning necessary takes place, the recovery in the housing market will continue to be delayed.

~McQ

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