ByÂ Patrice Hill-The Washington Times
TheÂ Obama administration Friday morning endorsed a very gradual phasing-down of the enormous roleÂ Fannie Mae andÂ Freddie Mac now play in the housing market, taking a first step by reducing the size of loans they can guarantee.
The plan would allow the limit on loans to fall from the current level of $729,000 in major cities like Washington to $625,000 on Oct 1, as scheduled under current law. The limit on loans that can be insured by theÂ Federal Housing Administration (FHA) would drop to the same level. The plan would also phase in a requirement that homebuyers supply at least a 10 percent downpayment on all loans backed byÂ Fannie andFreddie.
To begin easingÂ Fannie andÂ Freddie out of the near-exclusive role they play in providing the funds for prime mortgages, the plan would also increase the amount the two mortgage giants charge for their guarantee. That will make mortgages more expensive, but also enable more private banks to step in and provide financing without having to compete with the cheaper alternative available fromÂ Fannie andÂ Freddie.
â€œWeâ€™re going to wind downÂ Fannie andÂ Freddie,â€ said Treasury SecretaryÂ Timothy Geithner, noting that the plan would also continue to reduce the enterprisesâ€™ giant portfolios of mortgage loans by at least 10 percent a year.
The paring of portfolios is aimed at diminishing or eliminating their past controversial practice of trying to eke out profits through hedge fund-like investing tactics in sub-prime mortgages. It was those questionable mortgage purchases that largely caused the collapse of the two giants and their federal takeover in 2008. The government has spent nearly $150 billion so far covering losses on the bad loans.
â€œThere is a broad consensus about the need for a transition to a smaller role for the governmentâ€ in the housing market, but accomplishing this through legislation and gradual administrative changes could take several years,Â Mr. Geithner said.
â€œWe are going to start the process of reform now, but we are going to do it responsibly and carefully so that we support the recovery and the process of repair in the housing market,â€ he said.
â€œOur plan is centered on bringing capital back to the private marketâ€ through the gradual scaling back of the mortgage giants, saidÂ Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department
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