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Watt Blames Homeowner Skepticism for HARP Slowdown

In a town hall style meeting in Chicago Tuesday, Mel Watt, Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), blamed fear of being taken in by a scam for eligible homeowner’s reluctance to take advantage of the Home Affordable Refinance program (HARP).

"We are down to the people who don't believe this is a credible program," Watt said in a meeting with community groups and housing counseling agencies at a Chicago Public Library branch. "We've got approximately $72 million that we'd like to give away in this metropolitan area. People won't come in and say I want that money."

According to an FHFA report, the number of homeowners refinancing monthly through HARP has dropped nationally, to just under 20,000 loans in April 2014, down year-over-year from almost 107,000 in April 2013.

HUD contends that on average, homeowners who refinance through HARP are saving $191 per month by lowering their interest rates. HARP allows homeowners to refinance regardless of if they owe more on the home than it is actually worth.

The Chicago event was anticipated because there was some speculation that Watt could announce an extension for the program, which is currently set to expire in December of 2015. The speculation proved fruitless however, with no such announcement taking place.

Instead Watt announced that Chicago was going to be the second city admitted into the federal government’s pilot Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative intended to assist homeowners who are behind on their mortgages, help neighborhoods recover, and reduce the inventory of REO properties held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Detroit, the first city in the program, was admitted in May.

HUD estimates that hundreds of thousands of citizens nationwide, including 36,000 in the City of Chicago alone, are eligible to benefit from HARP but have yet to step forward. Officials have noted that as interest rates rise, the incentive to participate fades.

With more promotional events scheduled in the coming months in cities around the nation, the push is on to get as many eligible homeowners as possible into a refinance before an interest rate increase shrinks the eligibility pool.

About Author: Derek Templeton

Derek Templeton is an attorney based in Dallas, Texas. He practices in the areas of real estate, financial services, and general corporate transactional law. His experience includes time as an Attorney Adviser for the U.S. Small Business Administration and as General Counsel for a nonprofit organization in Dallas. A self-avowed "policy junkie," he has a keen interest in the effect that evolving federal policy has on the mortgage, default servicing, and greater housing industries.

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