Sunday, May 03, 2009

If cramdown is allowed for luxury yachts and vacation homes, then why not for primary dwellings?

The Senate failed last week to solve a double-standard that favors the rich in bankrupcy law:
Bankruptcy law currently bars modifications on primary residences, while allowing modifications for vacation homes, family farms, and yachts. The amendment would permit bankruptcy courts to restructure the debt on home mortgages by reducing the principal owed, extending the repayment period, and reducing interest rates. Under the bill, eligibility is limited to homeowners with mortgages originated before 2009 that are worth less than $625,000, 60 days delinquent, and subject to a notice that a foreclosure may be commenced.

Extending the same bankruptcy protections to primary residences that currently apply to luxury yachts and vacation homes is not only fair, but would reduce foreclosures by about 20%, according to Credit Suisse, and benefit about 800,000 households, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. Strengthened bankruptcy protection is also beneficial to middle-class families who are not themselves facing foreclosure: the 2.4 million subprime foreclosures that the Center for Responsible Lending predicts will occur in 2009 will result in a $352 billion decline in property values for homes in neighborhoods surrounding those foreclosures, with an average decrease in property value per home of $8,667.

Preventing foreclosures in those neighborhoods will keep property values up, benefiting all homeowners. Indeed, an analysis by the Center for Responsible Lending found that similar legislation would avoid 600,000 foreclosures and thus maintain $72.5 billion in wealth for families not facing foreclosure. Modification of mortgages in bankruptcy will help maintain property values, while keeping middle-class families in their homes, limiting the self-reinforcing spiral of foreclosures and falling home prices.

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