2013 Legislature: Plan would help homeowners refinance, keep their homes

State Business and Industry Director Bruce Breslow urged lawmakers Wednesday to consider a plan for a state-operated nonprofit that would buy up underwater mortgages and enable homeowners to stay in their homes by refinancing at a house's current market value.He said the Home Means Nevada program, which could benefit some 13,000 homeowners, would cut many mortgage payments in half for those people struggling to keep a home now worth far less than what they agreed to pay.Breslow told a subcommittee of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees that the Federal Housing Administration can sell batches of underwater mortgages to a state nonprofit corporation and the federal government can basically double the amount of money Nevada puts into the program. He said the Attorney General's office has agreed to dedicate some $49 million in mortgage settlement funds to the program. With a federal match, the program would have about $100 million and “that would enable us to have a meaningful program of home retention in Nevada,” he added.Breslow said the program would especially help homeowners who are underwater because the market value of their house has dropped severely in the housing market crash but who are still fighting to make mortgage payments. The average home price in mid-2007 was $239,000. Now it is closer to $135,000.The program also would seek to help those behind in their payments by 90-180 days. The program would be available only to owner-occupants, not investors in multiple homes.Buying up those mortgages, he said, would enable the nonprofit to adjust the value of each property to market value and refinance at a much lower payment level. The payments those homeowners make on their new mortgages would return money to the nonprofit to be used for additional refinancings.Breslow said the federal money could only be used if the owners are still living in their homes, but state money could be used to buy abandoned homes that have not yet been foreclosed on.“The idea is to keep people in their homes by putting them into 30-year fixed-interest-rate loans,” he said, adding, “Our motivation is to get people back to where they can pay their mortgage.”He said the state nonprofit can do this job much better than private business because profit-driven banks aren't motivated to lower a home's value. He said there is also no motivation for them to foreclose on a property.Breslow told the joint subcommittee there are a lot of details about the program that must still be ironed out. He hopes to put a more detailed plan together by April.Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, the subcommittee chairwoman, said those details are critical.“We can't authorize $49 million for something we don't have all the details on,” she said.


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