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Lawmakers weigh in on new home refinance plan

Local members of Congress applauded President Obama ‘s announcement today of new policies meant to shore up the shaky housing market – a plan that could help a lot of Bay Area homeowners refinance “underwater” mortgages at historically low interest rates.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“I am very pleased that the administration is taking these steps to help responsible homeowners refinance at historically low interest rates. Allowing these homeowners to refinance at today’s record low rates will keep families in their homes and boost the economy by putting thousands of dollars back in the pockets of borrowers. I urge FHFA to move swiftly to assure that these new policies will help as many homeowners as possible.”

From Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:

“I am glad that a step has been taken in the right direction. I hope this has a positive effect, but if it does not deliver, I will continue to hold the Obama Administration accountable and demand relief for homeowners. We must do more to help the people of California who have been plagued by the foreclosure crisis from day one.

“For far too long, I have heard heartbreaking stories from people in our region: tales of people doing everything they can, and still being foreclosed upon. I will continue to fight for more real, commonsense solutions to the housing crisis and to keep the pressure on the folks in Washington to help our community.

“We need to relieve some of the financial burden for homeowners who are ‘underwater,’ not only to more foreclosures, but to generate more money that will go into our local businesses. Helping the people of our region stay in their homes is step one to restoring our economy.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“The President took a positive first step today to help address the catastrophic housing situation in the country. It’s not enough though. Up to a million families nationally could be helped, but there are two million underwater homeowners in California alone.

“We need meaningful principal reductions on a large scale. It’s time to implement a Homeowner’s Bill of Rights that ends dual-tracking and creates a single point of contact for borrowers. The size and scope of this housing crisis requires us to think big. Our nation’s economy simply will not recover until the crisis of foreclosures is over.”

From Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough:

“Finally, relief for the middle class families of America! I applaud the FHFA for taking bold and needed action. I and many of my colleagues had appealed directly to Mr. DeMarco, the head of FHFA, to take these actions to refinance middle class America, and he has responded. In particular, the decision not to put a cap on the loan-to-value ratio that is eligible to be refinanced via a fixed rate mortgage will mean that potentially millions of homeowners will be eligible. Given that Fannie and Freddie are owned by taxpayers, this decision is a win for them as well. There are reduced odds of losses from the guarantees issued by these two agencies, and there is no cost to taxpayers because Fannie and Freddie will fund this refinancing activity through new bonds. If the wave materializes, it could also help to stabilize the housing market in neighborhoods where refinancing occurs frequently, and could potentially put thousands of dollars into the pockets of a strapped homeowner who refinances. All in all, I only wish that this process could begin immediately, but I understand that banks aren’t set up to handle a wave of applicants. Hopefully, competition between lenders will force them to participate in this new program and drive them to get set up rapidly.”

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Ellen Tauscher introduces anti-foreclosure bill

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, introduced a bill Wednesday that would let the California Housing Finance Agency issue an estimated $10 billion in new bonds to help refinance “underwater” mortgages and jump-start growth in neighborhoods devastated by home foreclosures.

The bill also would grant CalHFA the power to use Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) money to help families refinance their homes at a price they can afford in order to avoid foreclosure.

“Foreclosures are decimating neighborhoods from Fairfield to Antioch and Oakley,” Tauscher said in her news release. “This legislation will help families in the hardest hit areas get the additional resources they need to stay in their homes and keep these vibrant communities from disappearing.”

Tauscher’s co-authors on the bill are Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater; Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.; and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

Cardoza’s Central Valley district includes more than half of the city of Stockton, which has been rocked by one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates. “As I have continued to say, the foreclosure crisis remains at the heart of our nation’s economic crisis. It is imperative that we pursue all means to address this problem and ensure that taxpayer funds are being used in the most responsible way,” he said.

UPDATE @ 8:36 A.M. THURSDAY: Click here for a copy of the bill.