To Fix Housing, See the Data
In Miami recently, I met up with Laurie Goodman, a senior managing director of Amherst Securities. I’d been trying to meet her ever since I’d read an article that she had written in March entitled “The Case for Principal Reductions.” But our schedules never seemed to mesh. So when I noticed that we were both going to be at a conference in Miami, I wangled a breakfast appointment. It was one of the more illuminating breakfasts I’ve had in a while.
The idea of helping struggling homeowners by writing down some principal on their mortgages — as opposed to reducing the interest or reconfiguring the terms to lower the monthly payments — is much in the air right now. Banks loathe the idea of principal reduction; they fear that people who are current on their mortgages will start defaulting just to get their principal reduced. They also don’t want the hit to their balance sheets.
But the states’ attorneys general who sued over the robo-signing scandal have made principal reduction the central plank of the settlement they are close to completing. The settlement will force the big banks to begin a sustained program of principal reduction, and will heavily penalize banks that don’t comply. From what I hear, the goal of the states is to prove to the banks that principal reduction will not cause the sky to fall — and is, ultimately, less damaging to bank profits than foreclosures.