Obama Looks to Slow Foreclosures ... Again

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By Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the foreclosure crisis showing no signs of relenting, the Obama administration plans to expand a program aimed at helping people remain in their homes.

The goal of the announcement, expected Monday, is to increase the rate at which troubled home loans are converted into new loans with lower monthly payments, Treasury spokeswoman Meg Reilly said during the weekend.

Industry officials said the new effort would include increased pressure on mortgage companies to accelerate loan modifications by highlighting firms that are lagging in that area.

The Treasury is also expected to announce that it will wait until the loan modifications are permanent before paying cash incentives to mortgage companies that lower loan payments.

Under a $75 billion Treasury program, companies that agree to lower payments for troubled borrowers collect $1,000 initially from the government for each loan, followed by $1,000 annually for up to three years.

The government support, which is provided from the $700 billion financial bailout program, is aimed at providing cash incentives for mortgage providers to accept smaller mortgage payments rather than foreclosing on homes.

The program has come under heavy criticism for failing to do enough to attack a tidal wave of foreclosures. Analysts said the foreclosure crisis is likely to persist well into next year as high unemployment pushes more people out of their homes.

Rising foreclosures depress home prices and threaten the sustainability of the fledgling economic recovery.

A report last week from the Mortgage Bankers Association found that 14% of homeowners with mortgages were either behind on payments or in foreclosure at the end of September, a record level for the ninth straight quarter.

The Congressional Oversight Panel, a committee that monitors spending under the Treasury's bailout program, concluded in a report last month that foreclosures are now threatening families who took out conventional, fixed-rate mortgages and put down payments of 10%-20% on homes that would have been within their means in a normal market.

Treasury's program, known as the Home Affordable Modification Program, "is targeted at the housing crisis as it existed six months ago, rather than as it exists right now," the report said.

Treasury's Reilly said the expanded program would, among other steps, make more aid available to struggling borrowers and expand the number of organizations providing help.

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Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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