Federal housing chief pitches mortgage relief program (Crain's Chicago Business)

The head of federal agency that oversees housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac visited Chicago today to tout the government's mortgage relief program, but didn't satisfy some local advocates who say the agency isn't doing enough to help struggling homeowners.

Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt appeared today at the Woodson Regional Library in Washington Heights to raise awareness of the Home Affordable Refinance Program, which has lowered borrowing costs for about 184,000 homeowners in the Chicago area since its 2009 inception. But nearly 36,000 Chicagoans eligible for HARP refinancing have yet to use the program, Mr. Watt said.

“This is just free money when you think about it,” he said.

HARP is scheduled to expire at the end of next year, but Fannie and Freddie officials stressed urgency as the specter of rising interest rates could drain the pool of eligible borrowers. Homeowners are eligible for HARP, among other criteria, if their mortgage interest rate is 1.5 percentage points above market rates, which remain low but could rise as they did briefly earlier this year.

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