As the housing sector kept sucking for more oxygen, Washington announced back in February the Hardest Hit Fund worth $1.5 billion that was designed to help states in serious housing peril and asked them at the time, as a condition to get a slice of the money, to submit creative programs that would lend a hand to homeowners struggling with mortgage payments. The plans from Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada have now been okayed by the Treasury and the assigned funds are ready to begin flowing to the states' Housing Finance Agencies, or HFA, tasked to administer their use.
California drew the largest share at $699.6 million, Florida got $418 million, Michigan $154.5 million, Arizona $125.1 million and Nevada $102.8 million. Apparently the split was based largely on population size, which certainly is one way to do it.
A fairer method might have been to look at the current mortgage foreclosure rate in each state, in which case Nevada - with Las Vegas as its much-pummeled real estate meltdown epicenter - would have picked up a bigger portion of the proceeds. Negative equity measure, or being underwater, would be another metric that could have been used here. Again, Nevada would have ranked right up there for more funds than what it now received.
Each state presented its own innovative program for mortgage borrower relief, but a few predictable items appear on everyone's list. The most prevalent one is principal reduction, something that all address in a variety of ways. It clearly is the key in any plan, government or private, to stabilize housing markets from Florida to Nevada and beyond. The Obama Administration is putting increasing emphasis on it, but its actions need more support from mortgage lenders who so far have been reluctant to do much about it.
Unemployed homeowners get help to meet their mortgage obligations while looking for work is another popular feature. As is the assistance to handle the complexities of a second mortgage that may be hindering loan modification or any other real estate transaction, like a short sale.
Hardest Hit Fund will have a second phase later this year, covering the next tier of states lured into the now infamous mortgage and real estate backwater. It will bring some relief to a still festering housing situation, but for a real impact to be achieved the private sector needs to step up to the plate with a hot bat.