Senate Democrats are negotiating with banking industry lobbyists on legislation that would allow for bankruptcy judges to “cram down” (or rewrite) mortgage loans. Judges currently have the authority to do this for mortgages on second homes, yachts, and luxury automobiles, but not for primary residences.
Bank lobbyists (whose salaries are paid by banks receiving billions in taxpayer bailout funds) are hoping that Senate Republicans can either stop the bill outright or force limits on who would be covered by the bill, as well as a time limit (or sunset period). The House passed a version earlier this month.
Advocates for troubled homeowners are pushing for legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges the authority to change the terms of interest rates and loan principle to reflect current market rates. This would help stop the flood of houses going into foreclosure, maintain value for the banks, and prevent neighborhoods from being overwhelmed with vacant properties.
The bill would not only benefit homeowners who are able to convince judges that they have the means and will to pay a mortgage brought down to reflect the current value of their homes, but also renters — a group that represents 40% of all people at risk of eviction because of foreclosure.
Banks had no qualms about extending loans on overvalued properties in good times (and then leveraging them many times over in credit default swaps and other derivatives). Their current policy is to foreclose, evict everyone, and let the government deal with the resulting mess of abandoned property and growing homelessness. Even those current on their mortgages lose out as their property values continue to plummet amid the glut of bank-owned properties on the market. With profits rising thanks to government handouts, why should banks be allowed to duck their share of responsibility for the mortgage mess?