WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke called on the government yesterday to ramp up efforts to stem soaring home foreclosures.
Although a flurry of actions has been taken to ease the housing crisis, foreclosures remain "too high," with adverse consequences for struggling homeowners, squeezed lenders and the broader economy, Bernanke said at a Fed conference on housing finance.
Lenders will initiate 2.25 million foreclosures this year, up from an average annual pace of less than 1 million in the pre-crisis period, he said.
To provide additional relief, Bernanke outlined a number of what he called "promising options" to reduce preventable foreclosures.
Under one plan, Bernanke called on Congress to ease the terms of a government program called "Hope for Homeowners," which lets distressed homeowners refinance into more affordable, federally insured mortgages if the lender writes down the amount owed on the mortgage and pays an up-front insurance premium.
Bernanke suggested that Congress lower a lender's up-front insurance premium and reduce the interest rate borrowers pay, which presently is quite high, roughly 8 percent.
Another option would ease the terms of a loan-modification plan put forward by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that seeks to make monthly mortgage payments more affordable. Under this plan, struggling home borrowers pay interest rates of about 3 percent for five years. Rates are reduced so that borrowers are not paying more than 38 percent of their pretax income on housing. Bernanke suggested that this threshold could be lowered to perhaps 31 percent of income.