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Lawmakers urge Obama to act on housing

Much as the state’s U.S. Senators did yesterday, members of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation today urged President Obama to act immediately to address the troubled housing market.

The letter, drafted by delegation chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, calls on President Obama to urge the Federal Housing Finance Agency to establish a plan to refinance all mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and to push for a major principal reduction plan for underwater homeowners, such as modifications in coordination with Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings.

It also asks the president to institute a “Homeowner’s Bill Of Rights” that would apply to HAMP, FHFA, HUD, VA and private servicer modification programs. The lawmakers want this to make the process homeowner-friendly by ensuring a single point of contact; requiring servicers to review documents within a timely fashion and disclose information; and banning “advanced fees.” They also want it to eliminate obstacles to effective modifications by allowing for flexibility in the debt-to-income ratio; ending the requirement that homeowners be delinquent in order to be eligible for a loan modification; ending dual tracking; and requiring that servicers not report adverse credit information while trial or permanent modification is underway.

Finally, they want this bill of rights to ensure accountability and establish an appeals process by creating an Office of Consumer Advocate, authorizing random audits of modifications, and establishing an independent appeals process for homeowners who believe their modification has been improperly rejected or handled in violation of program rules.

Among those joining Lofgren at a Capitol Hill news conference announcing the letter this morning were Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.

They all signed the letter, as did Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and other House Democrats from across the state.

Read the letter, after the jump…
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Senators urge dropping barriers to refinance

Both of California’s U.S. Senators are among more than a dozen from both sides of the aisle who urged the Obama Administration today to make administrative reforms to help millions of responsible homeowners refinance and take advantage of today’s record-low interest rates.

The lawmakers – writing to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward DeMarco – said that with interest rates at 3.94 percent, it’s time to lower barriers that keep borrowers trapped in higher-interest loans and to address other hurdles that limit existing refinancing programs.

Specifically, they called for removing loan-to-value limits, which they said would provide the most at-risk borrowers an alternative to simply walking away from their mortgage; eliminating loan level price adjustments, which they say make a refinance less affordable, reduce the benefit to the borrower, and can’t be justified on loans on which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac already bear the risk; and ensuring that second lien holders don’t stand in the way of a refinance.

“Time is of the essence and we urge you to act quickly and aggressively to ensure that responsible homeowners receive the full benefit of these lower rates,” they wrote.

In addition to U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the letter was signed by Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; John Kerry, D-Mass.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Bay Area gets grants to aid homeless veterans

More than $3.4 million in federal Housing and Urban Development and VA grants are going to several Bay Area public housing authorities to supply permanent housing and case management for homeless veterans, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced today.

Veterans taking part in the Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH) program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services – including physical and mental health, substance abuse recovery and other aid – through its medical centers in San Francisco, Martinez, Palo Alto, Sacramento and Fresno.

The Oakland Housing Authority will get 50 vouchers for $498,696; the San Francisco Housing Authority will get 25 housing vouchers for $349,218; the San Mateo County Housing Authority will get 50 vouchers for $668,580; the Santa Clara County Housing Authority will get 100 vouchers for $1,159,500; the Pittsburg Housing Authority will get 25 vouchers for $238,881; the Santa Cruz County Housing Authority will get 25 vouchers for $280,395; and the Santa Rosa Housing Authority will get 25 vouchers for $206,565. Other grants totaling almost $656,000 went to Fresno, Monterey, Sacramento and Humboldt County.

“This initiative will strengthen our ongoing efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015 and improve quality of life for veterans,” Shinseki said in a news release. “Working with our partners at HUD and in Congress, we continue to make good progress to reduce Veteran homelessness, though much work remains. VA is committed to providing Veterans and their families with access to affordable housing and medical services that will help them get back on their feet.”

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Miller leads complaint about foreclosure aid

Rep. George Miller, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, led 18 House Democrats in complaining to the Obama Administration yesterday that not enough has been done to help distressed homeowners in the Bay Area and nationwide.

“We are writing to urge stronger and immediate actions by the Administration to help many of our constituents who are being routinely abused, lied to, and subjected to financial conflicts of interest by lenders and mortgage servicers, including those participating in federal programs,” they said in their letter to Vice President Joe Biden.

“Our constituents are running out of time. This Administration must stand up for America’s families caught in the housing crisis. The Making Home Affordable Program is simply not making sufficient progress to prevent unnecessary foreclosures. It has so far failed to ensure that mortgage servicers work with homeowners in good faith to achieve loss mitigation that works for homeowners, investors and our communities.”

With the $29 billion Home Affordable Modification Program having been pegged by the Government Accountability Office and other independent watchdogs as inefficient and in need of reform, House Republicans are targeting HAMP for elimination as part of their proposed budget cuts. Miller, D-Martinez, and his cohorts don’t support that, but rather are urging the program’s immediate improvement to crack down on mortgage servicers’ abusive practices.

Miller organized a meeting last week for more than a dozen of his colleagues with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to convey their concern over HAMP and their constituents’ mistreatment. Among the signatories of yesterday’s letter were representatives John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

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Today’s Congressional odds and ends

A vote on House Republicans’ bill to repeal last year’s health care reforms is getting all the headlines, but other things are afoot from the Bay Area’s voices in Congress today…

McNerney meets with mayors: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, met today with Danville Mayor Karen Stepper, Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena and San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson to discuss proposed transportation infrastructure improvements throughout the Tri-Valley area; the i-GATE iHub initiative, a public-private partnership designed to support the growth of small businesses and clean-energy technologies; emergency preparedness throughout the region; and legislation of importance to local community access television stations.

Boxer applauds homelessness grants: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., touted Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan’s announcement that 801 California organizations – including dozens in the Bay Area – will receive more than $227 million in federal grants to provide housing, job training, health care, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and child care to homeless Californians. “Since the recession began, California and the rest of the nation have seen an increase in homelessness. These federal investments will help us combat the epidemic of homelessness so people can get back on their feet and off the streets,” Boxer said. California’s share is about 16 percent of the $1.4 billion total HUD announced today, funded through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

Eshoo elected to tech subcommittee post: Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, was elected ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. “My Congressional District, home to Silicon Valley, is the innovation center of the world, and the policies we shape can advance America’s competitiveness and job growth,” said Eshoo, who vowed to work on expanding high-speed, affordable broadband; protecting electronic privacy; freeing up more spectrum; and transitioning our nation’s 911 system to a next generation, IP-based network. Eshoo last week had announced she’ll co-chair a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Internet Caucus.

Pelosi to attend State Dinner: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will be attending tonight’s State Dinner at the White House for Chinese President Hu Jintao. Other Bay Area notables on the long list of expected attendees include Oakland Mayor Jean Quan; San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee; Intel Corp. Paul Otellini and his wife, Sandy; former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife, Charlotte; former state Controller and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly and his wife, Anita Yu; and Obama supporters Azita Raji and Denise Bauer.

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Recovery Act $$$ for Alameda County, Oakland

In short: $11 million to Alameda County for housing rehab and job creation, and $6.8 million to support Early Head Start in Oakland.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released $2 billion from its Neighborhood Stabilization Program today, including the $11 million for Alameda County, bankrolled by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The NSP aims to spur economic development in hard-hit communities and create jobs by providing resources to buy and rehabilitate vacant homes and convert them to affordable housing. More specifically, the money is supposed to be used to help state and local governments and non-profit developers collaborate to buy land and property; demolish or rehabilitate abandoned homes and buildings; and/or to offer down-payment and closing cost assistance to low- to middle-income homebuyers. Grantees can also create “land banks” to assemble, temporarily manage, and dispose of foreclosed homes.

The awards also require housing counseling for families receiving homebuyer assistance funds through the NSP, and grantees must ensure that new homebuyers under this program get mortgages from lenders who agree to comply with sound lending practices.

California received about $318 million under today’s grant release; Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it’ll “help provide prompt relief and assistance to individuals, families and communities while also helping create jobs throughout California.”

More about the NSP, and about the Early Head Start money for Oakland, after the jump…
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