The Obama administration is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place.
President Obama’s economic advisers and outside experts say the nation’s much-celebrated housing rebound is leaving too many people behind, including young people looking to buy their first homes and individuals with credit records weakened by the recession.
In response, administration officials say they are working to get banks to lend to a wider range of borrowers by taking advantage of taxpayer-backed programs—including those offered by the Federal Housing Administration—that insure home loans against default.
Housing officials are urging the Justice Department to provide assurances to banks, which have become increasingly cautious, that they will not face legal or financial recriminations if they make loans to riskier borrowers who meet government standards but later default.
Officials are also encouraging lenders to use more subjective judgment in determining whether to offer a loan and are seeking to make it easier for people who owe more than their properties are worth to refinance at today’s low interest rates, among other steps.
The FHA, in coordination with the White House, is working to develop new policies to make clear to banks that they will not lose their guarantees or face other legal action if loans that conform to the program’s standards later default. Officials hope the FHA’s actions will then spur Fannie and Freddie to do the same.
The effort requires sign-on by the Justice Department and the inspector general of Department of Housing and Urban Development, agencies that investigate wrongdoing in mortgage lending.