THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY
February 1, 2012
Remarks of President Barack Obama - As Prepared for Delivery
Helping Responsible Homeowners
Falls Church, Virginia
February 1, 2012
As Prepared for Delivery -
Hello, everybody! It's good to be here. Thank you for having me.
Last week, in my State of the Union Address, I laid out my blueprint for an economy that's built to last. Don't worry; I'm not going do the whole thing again this morning. It's a blueprint that puts a new focus on restoring what have always been our greatest strengths. American manufacturing. American energy. The skills and education of American workers.
And most importantly, the American values of fairness and responsibility.
We know what happened when we strayed from those values over the past decade - especially when it comes to the massive housing bubble that burst. Millions of families who did the right and responsible thing - who shopped for a home, secured a mortgage, and made their payments each month - were hurt badly by the irresponsible actions of others. By lenders who sold loans to people who couldn't afford the mortgages; buyers who knew they couldn't afford them; and banks that packaged the mortgages up and traded them to reap phantom profits.
It was wrong. It triggered the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. And it has been the single biggest drag on our recovery from a terrible recession. Crushing debt has kept millions of consumers from spending. A lack of building demand has kept hundreds of thousands of construction workers idle. The challenge is massive in size and scope, and economists can tell you how it's affected all sorts of statistics, from GDP to consumer confidence.
But what's at stake is something more important than just statistics. It's personal. I've been saying this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class. And this housing crisis struck right at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America: our homes. The places where we invest our nest eggs, raise our kids, plant roots in our communities, build memories. We need to do everything in our power to repair the damage and make responsible families whole.
Now, the truth is, it will take more time than any of us would like for the housing market to recover from this crisis. Home prices started a pretty steady decline about five years ago now. And government certainly can't fix the entire problem on its own. But it is wrong for anyone to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. I refuse to accept that, and so do the American people.
There are more than 10 million homeowners across the country right now who, because of an unprecedented decline in home prices that is no fault of their own, owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Here in Falls Church, home values have fallen by about a quarter from their peak. In places like Las Vegas, more than half of all homeowners are underwater.
It will take a while for those prices to rise again. But there are actions we can take, right now, to provide some relief to folks who've been making their payments on time.
Already, the housing plan we launched a couple years ago has helped nearly one million responsible homeowners refinance their mortgages and save an average of $300 on their payments every month. I'll be honest - it didn't work at the scale we'd hoped. Mortgage rates are as low as they've been in half a century, and when that happens, homeowners usually flock to refinance their mortgages. But this time, too many families haven't been able to take advantage of the low rates. Falling prices locked them out of the market. So last year, we took aggressive action that allowed more families to participate.
Today, we're doing even more. I am sending Congress a plan that will give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage by refinancing at historically low rates. No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. And a small fee on the largest financial institutions will make sure that it doesn't add to the deficit.
I want to be clear: this plan, like the other actions we've taken, will not help the neighbors down the street who bought a house they couldn't afford, then walked away and left a foreclosed home behind. It will not help those who bought multiple homes just to speculate and make a quick buck.
What this plan will do is help millions of responsible homeowners who make their payments on time but find themselves trapped under falling home values or wrapped in red tape. If you're ineligible for refinancing just because you're underwater on your mortgage, this plan changes that. You'll be able to refinance at a lower rate, saving hundreds of dollars a month you can put back in your pocket. Or you can choose to use those savings to rebuild equity in your homes - which will help most underwater homeowners come back up for air more quickly.
To move this part of the plan, we need Congress to act. But we're not just going to wait for Congress. We're going to keep building a firewall to prevent the same kinds of abuses that led to this crisis in the first place.
Already, we've set up a special task force I asked my Attorney General to establish to investigate the kind of activity banks took when they packaged and sold risky mortgages; it's ramping up its work. We are going to hold people who broke the law accountable and restore confidence in the market. We are going to speed assistance to homeowners. And we are going to turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many hardworking Americans.
Today, I'm also proposing a Homeowners Bill of Rights - one straightforward set of commonsense rules of the road that every family knows they can count on when they're shopping for a mortgage. No more hidden fees or conflicts of interest. No more getting the runaround when you call about your loan. No more sneaking fine print under the noses of young families who don't know better. New safeguards against inappropriate foreclosures. New options to avoid foreclosure if you've fallen on hardship or a run of bad luck. And a new, simple, clear form for new buyers.
Think about it. This is the most important purchase a family makes. But how many of you have had to deal with overly complicated mortgage forms with hidden clauses and complex terms? This is what a mortgage form should look like. Now that our new consumer watchdog agency is finally running at full steam, they can move forward on important protections like this new, shorter mortgage form. Simple, not complicated. Informative, not confusing. Terms are clear. Fees are transparent. Americans making a down payment on their dreams shouldn't be terrified by pages and pages of fine print - they should be confident they're making the right decision for their future.
There's more we're announcing today. We're working to turn more foreclosed homes into rental housing, because as a lot of families know, that empty house or for sale sign down the block can bring down prices for an entire neighborhood. We're working to make sure people don't lose their homes just because they lost their job. And these steps will make a difference.
But as I said earlier, no program or policy will solve all the problems in a multitrillion-dollar housing market. The heights the housing bubble reached before it burst were unsustainable. It will take time to fully recover. And it will require everyone to do their part.
See, as much as our economic challenges were born of eroding home values and portfolio values, they were also born of an erosion of some old-fashioned American values. An economy that's built to last demands responsibility from everyone. Government must take responsibility for rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that helped cause this crisis in the first place. And all of us must take responsibility for our own actions - or lack of action. So I urge Congress to act. Pass this plan. Help more families keep their homes. Help more neighborhoods remain vibrant and whole. Help keep more dreams defended and alive. And I promise you that I will keep doing everything I can to make the future brighter for this community, this commonwealth, and this entire country.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.
Obama's latest homeowner mortgage relief plan. Text
THE WHITE HOUSE