The rate of serious delinquencies--corresponding to mortgages in foreclosure or with payments ninety days or more overdue--rose sharply during 2006 and recently stood at about 11 percent, about double the recent low seen in mid-2005.3 The rate of serious delinquencies has also risen somewhat among some types of near-prime mortgages, although the rate in that category remains much lower than the rate in the subprime market. The rise in delinquencies has begun to show through to foreclosures. In the fourth quarter of 2006, about 310,000 foreclosure proceedings were initiated, whereas for the preceding two years the quarterly average was roughly 230,000.4 Subprime mortgages accounted for more than half of the foreclosures started in the fourth quarter.
The problem with subprime loans doesn't lie solely with subprime lenders. It's the product. Popular subprime loans were often 2/28 adjustable-rate mortgages or Option ARMs. A 2/28 works by qualifying the borrower at a fixed-rate for two years. Beginning with the third year, the rate changes and fluctuates over the remaining 28 years. Typically, rates can move 2 percentage points beginning in the third year, and adjust every six months. Common cap rates are 6 points over the initial rate, which means a loan taken out at 5% can reach 11%. Many 2/28 loans contain a prepayment penalty, adding insult to injury for those who want to refinance
Sales of previously owned homes in March fell 8.4 percent from February, the group reported. It was the largest one-month drop since sales plummeted 12.6 percent in January 1989, when the country was in a housing recession. It was also 11.3 percent below the number of units sold in March 2006. The drop -- from a seasonally adjusted rate of 6.68 million homes sold in February to 6.12 million in March -- followed three consecutive months of increases in sales of existing single-family houses, townhouses, condominiums and co-ops. Those gains had led to speculation that the market was coming back after a sluggish 2006. According to the Realtors group, total housing inventory fell 1.6 percent at the end of March, to 3.75 million existing homes available for sale. However, at the current sales pace, it would take 7.3 months to get through that supply, up from 6.8 months in February. A stable market usually has a 5.5-month to 6-month supply, experts say.
Sales tumbled in every part of the country. They fell 10.9 percent in the Midwest, 9.1 percent in the West and 8.2 percent in the Northeast. In the South, which includes the Washington region, sales dropped 6.2 percent.
The federal government in 2008 created the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is a tax on new homes designed to help make housing more affordable. The Cato Institute holds that this fund will make housing "slightly less affordable for most people so as to make housing more affordable for a few people.” With other policies, such as reduced taxes or the waiver of land use fees, governments can subsidize the construction of new homes, hence reducing the average price. Government incentives to…