States Can't Fix Housing Crisis Alone, O'Malley Tells Congress

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States Can't Fix Housing Crisis Alone, O'Malley Tells Congress

WASHINGTON - 4/11/2008

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By Will Skowronski (Capital News Service)

 Gov. Martin O'Malley told House members Thursday that the Maryland General Assembly worked this spring to stem the tide of future foreclosures, but homeowners in trouble now need federal rescue.

 O'Malley and three mayors testified before the House Financial Services Committee about a bill that would, among other things, give local governments $10 billion to confront the national housing crisis. Local governments would be allowed to buy, refurbish and sell vacant homes to make sure neighborhoods don't turn into ghost towns.

 "We needed those dollars months ago," O'Malley said. "Our Achilles heel in our mitigating efforts so far has been the inability to come up with those funds that can go directly to helping homeowners and saving neighborhoods."

 People have been forced from their homes after being unable to pay back ballooning mortgage rates. The aftereffect has rippled through the economy, leaving in its wake vacant homes and startled banks that backed the mortgages.

 O'Malley pushed bills through the Maryland General Assembly this year trying to prevent future foreclosures. One measure forces mortgage lenders to determine whether a homeowner can repay a loan before lending the money.

 The U.S. Senate passed its own plan Thursday to stave off foreclosures, over White House protests. But, the Democratic House plan is broader, with calls for government-insured mortgages, help for refinancing mortgages and larger loans and grants to local governments.

 The bill, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., said, will be voted on in two weeks. O'Malley's input, Frank said, was particularly helpful as a governor and the former mayor of Baltimore when touching on whether the $10 billion should be given to just states or cities as well.

 Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, all Democrats, also testified. 

 Some areas, O'Malley said, have been hit harder than others. For instance, 1 of every 500 Maryland homes is going through foreclosure, but in Prince George's County it's 1 in 72.

 Cities as well as states need the funds, O'Malley said. 

 "It should allow us to get the dollars to where they do the most good." 

 O'Malley backed Frank's bill, praising the $10 billion in loans and grants and $300 million to counsel homeowners about mortgages. 

 "These resources are critical to us in the states and our cities," O'Malley said. "States are acting in the absence of the federal government, but with the federal partnership we can actually take these dollars and do a lot more to help families stay in their homes."  

 If the government bailed out Wall Street, O'Malley said, why can't it bail out the middle class?

 "Where would our middle class be were it not for government programs?" O'Malley said. "We need to act."

 Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin both voted for the Senate foreclosure bill, even though it had been watered down. 

 "The last few weeks have been all about the bail-out, making sure Wall Street is OK. That's the wrong priority," Mikulski said in a statement. "We need to put government on the side of the kids, families and communities."

 Cardin was disappointed an amendment was not attached that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to adjust mortgage rates for people who would otherwise have to give up their homes.



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