WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Only 12 percent of U.S. homeowners eligible for loan modifications under the Obama administration's housing rescue plan have had their mortgages reworked, and millions more foreclosures are coming, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday.
A Treasury report showed 360,165 people had their monthly payments reduced through August, up from 235,247 through July, but a senior Treasury official conceded much more must be done to soften the impact of a severe and prolonged housing crisis.
"The recent crisis in the housing sector has devastated families and communities across the country and is at the center of our financial crisis and economic downturn," Michael Barr, assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions, told a House Financial Services subcommittee.
Treasury has begun releasing monthly reports on the loan modification program, called the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, that it launched in February. At the time, it was suggested that millions of Americans might be able to get some relief through negotiations with their mortgage lenders.
But the program, which pays cash incentives to mortgage servicers to reduce monthly payments to 31 percent of a borrower's income, is off to a relatively slow start.
In July, Treasury said that just 9 percent of the estimated number of homeowners eligible had had their payments reduced, so August's 12 percent total represents only modest progress.
Barr said that Treasury was on track to achieve 500,000 trial modifications by November 1. The modification becomes permanent once a borrower makes three reduced monthly payments.
Barr said that "even if HAMP is a total success, we should still expect millions of foreclosures" as administration and industry efforts continue to stabilize a crisis-stricken housing sector.
BANKRUPTCY REVISION BILL THREATENED
Lawmakers expressed frustration at the slow progress as unemployment-driven foreclosures rise and threatened to revive so-called "cram-down" legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage loan amounts owed.