03.02.2010 Policy Points

Fixing the Housing Mess

Writing in The New Republic, U.S. Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina offers ideas for dealing with the housing mess:

The toxic assets backed by mortgages are impossible to value. The concern that taxpayers would get fleeced buying toxic assets from the financial industry was well justified. Whole mortgages are not hard to value at all. There are frequent, well-publicized auctions of mortgages with a sufficient number of informed, sophisticated buyers. The auctions are an almost perfect pricing mechanism. The problem for the financial industry is not the difficulty of valuing troubled mortgages; the problem is that many mortgages are not worth much. There are obviously many considerations in the price, but distressed mortgages generally sell for about 30 to 50 cents on the dollar at auction. And any honest valuation of many second liens would be pennies on the dollar.

If the government could purchase, either by voluntary sale or by eminent domain, distressed mortgages for 30 to 50 cents on the dollar, there would be ample room to reduce the principal to make the mortgage affordable. In other cases, the government could buy the home in exchange for cancelling the mortgage and enter into a long-term lease with the former homeowner.

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