Not so long ago it looked like the FHA Down Payment Assistance programs (DPAs) were gone for good. The DPAs were one of the last ways available for first time home buyers Loan and others who were short a down payment but otherwise qualified, to buy a home with no money out of their own pocket. This program was a way to launder a seller’s equity and use it as the basis of a grant from a charitable group like Ameridream or Nehemiah (here is a detailed look at how FHA DPAs work). But the DPAs were cut as one of the provisions of the new housing bill due to go into affect October 1st. It now seems that rumors of their death may be greatly exaggerated. A compromise deal to save the DPAs appears to be about to be accepted, and the FHA Down Payment Assistance programs could be back in business before the end of this month. (here is a detailed look at Chicago mortgage refinance ).
The DPAs have long been controversial. FHA has linked the DPAs to a higher default rate, and they’ve been trying to shut them down for years. Ameridream and Nehemiah, the two biggest DPA Charitable organizations, contest the default figures, and claim that the defaults are more a function of fraudulent loans than problems with the down payment programs. It’s been estimated that 30% of FHA loans have been combined with a DPA, so this has been a big factor in the market. After the housing bill was released, a group of Realtors, lenders, builders and community organizations led the fight to get the DPA reinstated. But it looked like this was a done deal. FHA claimed that the problems with the DPAs were severe enough that it could bankrupt the entire FHA system.
My experience has been different. FHA loans aren’t and never have been Sub Prime loans. These loans are fully underwritten and the borrowers need to show that they have the income, job stability and credit responsibility necessary to handle their mortgage obligations. The down payment is one piece of the puzzle, but not the whole picture. I’ve worked with many borrowers who were otherwise great prospects to buy a home, but had not been able to save enough for the down payment and closing costs. FHA with a grant from Ameridream or Nehemiah was a way to get them into their first home. The problem as I see it wasn’t the lack of a down payment on its own, but the layering of risk. In other words, a first time home buyer with a good credit history, a good income and some money in the bank was likely to make their mortgage payments on time, whether they contributed a down payment or not. On the other hand, a borrower with a low credit score, an inconsistent job history and high debt ratios was already on shaky ground, and the lack of a down payment just increased the risk of default.
With the new compromise it looks like FHA is coming around to this way of thinking. According to details released by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, a new bill will allow the DPAs to remain, but with limits and risk based pricing. Those home buyers with credit scores of 680 or above would be automatically eligible for the program, those with credit scores between 620 and 680 would be able to take advantage of the DPAs, but their mortgage insurance premium would be higher. This compromise makes a lot of sense to me. When the real estate market is soft, taking away one of the best programs available for first time home buyers didn’t make much sense. This will take the riskiest loans off the table while still offering the program to more credit worthy borrowers. The new bill appears to have enough support to get through and is expected to be in place by the end of the month. I’ll have more details as they come available.