We must work to limit the impact of the housing downturn on the real economy without impeding the completion of the necessary housing correction.
Much attention has been given to the fact that an estimated 8.8 million households may currently have negative home equity. We can expect that number to rise as the housing correction plays out, and to begin to reverse once the correction has run its course. The best outcome for these homeowners is to work through this correction as quickly as possible.
Homeowners with negative equity are more common in this housing downturn because lending practices changed dramatically in recent years. In 2007, 29 percent of mortgages were originated with no down payment. Some of those mortgages went to speculators; others to responsible borrowers who were able to buy a home because of expanded access to credit.
But let me emphasize that we do not need a system-wide solution for the vast majority of loans where a homeowner temporarily has negative equity. Negative equity does not affect borrowers' ability to pay their loans. Homeowners who can afford their mortgage payment should honor their obligations --- and most do. They know that there are housing cycles, and they bought more than houses. They bought homes to become part of a community, and they bought them as places to live, not as investments. And if they live in them for the long term, they are likely to become good investments.
Let me also emphasize that any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator. Washington can not create any new mortgage program to induce these speculators to continue to own these homes, unless someone else foots the bill.
The people we seek to help are those who want to keep their homes but can't afford the monthly payment because of an ARM reset. If they also have negative equity in their homes, refinancing becomes almost impossible and so workouts become even more important. Secretary Jackson is examining the potential for FHA to be a solution for these borrowers.