BofA CEO urges realistic view of homeownership amid recovery

BofA’s Moynihan says people must be clear on what they can afford

adunn@charlotteobserver.comDecember 14, 2012 

As a lesson from the mortgage meltdown, lenders and the federal government shouldn’t push homeownership as a universal goal, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan says.

Instead, he said the focus should be on what makes the most sense in individual cases – both for families now struggling to keep their homes and for people considering buying houses in the future.

“As we think about the future of the housing system, how does everything we have learned during the crisis and recovery apply?” Moynihan said, according to prepared remarks for a Brookings Institution forum on Friday in Washington. “It underscores the need to shape a system that keeps borrowers out of the situation of owning a home and not being able to afford it. It means shifting the conversation from what percentage of Americans own homes to what is the right solution at the right time for each individual or family.”

Moynihan said the housing market recovery is progressing. Home prices and demand are up, and delinquencies are declining. Thousands of borrowers have been able to get mortgage modifications to help them keep their homes.

But he said re-default rates remain high. He noted that of the bank’s 270,000 employees, about 50,000 were working with delinquent mortgages.

Moynihan said the problem is not a lack of programs to help people. It’s the still-stagnant economy.

“Important to the housing recovery is letting the process continue to move forward,” he said. “To help customers get to the right solution even if that means transitioning to rental.”

Going forward, he encouraged homeowners, lenders and federal agencies to “reset” their thinking.

Homeowners should view buying a house as securing a safe place to live knowing the risks, not a way to make a profit, he said.

“A roof over one’s head doesn’t always have to come with mortgage debt … and in many cases shouldn’t,” Moynihan said.

Lenders should still make ample credit available, but safeguard against giving mortgages to people who can’t afford the payments, he said. Down payments don’t necessarily need to be 20 percent, but perhaps 10 percent -- and certainly not zero.

And he said government programs like the Federal Housing Administration should focus on their mission of helping low- to moderate-income people buy homes, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on aiding liquidity.

“Now is our chance to reset. Now is our chance to move past recrimination and move toward solutions,” he said. “Now is our chance to put lessons learned to use and put our housing finance system on a more sustainable path.”

Dunn: 704-358-5235 Twitter: @andrew_dunn

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