The federal government appears to have succeeded in preventing the financial crisis of 2008 from causing a broad economic collapse. Yet the housing market, where reckless excesses led to the crisis two years ago, is still in turmoil, and until it stabilizes a real economic recovery can’t take hold — particularly in states like Oregon where industries are concentrated that depend on construction. Sen. Jeff Merkley has advanced a promising set of proposals to restore health to the housing market.
The Oregon Democrat will do a service if he succeeds in nothing more than drawing the attention of Congress and the Obama administration to the fact that the problem persists, and in some respects is getting worse. Four million American families lost their homes to foreclosure in 2009, and an even-greater number of foreclosures is projected this year.
The administration attempted to address the issue with its Home Affordable Modification Program, which encourages lenders to negotiate more favorable mortgage terms with homeowners in danger of foreclosure. But only 600,000 loan modifications have been approved, far fewer than the predicted 3 million to 4 million. HAMP has fallen short, but neither Congress nor the administration seem interested in replacing it with something better. Merkley, who has a background in affordable housing as a former Portland director of Habitat for Humanity, is well-placed to make easing the foreclosure boom a higher priority in Washington, D.C.