Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown wrote President Barack Obama's administration in February of last year, pointing out the need for improvements that would help American homeowners refinance rather than face foreclosure.
Although Obama announced some changes to the U.S. Department of Treasury's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) just days ago, Brown said he doesn't think they're enough.
"Improving access to refinancing puts more money in the pockets of homeowners, and that's a positive step for our economy," Brown said. "But we need to do more to help borrowers who are behind on their payments, are stuck in non-traditional mortgages, or owe more on their mortgages than their home is worth. Without bolder steps, we're not going to solve the foreclosure crisis that is holding back our economic recovery."
By easing eligibility rules, the Obama administration hopes an additional 1 million homeowners will qualify for HAMP and lower their mortgage payments.
HAMP, which was started in 2009, lets homeowners refinance their mortgages at lower rates and allows borrowers to bypass the usual requirement of having at least 20 percent equity in their home.
Many "underwater" borrowers - those who owe more than their homes are worth - couldn't qualify under the program. About 22.5 percent of U.S. homeowners, or 11 million, are underwater, according to CoreLogic, a real estate data firm.
Although the administration had estimated HAMP would help four to five million homeowners, as of Aug. 31, fewer than 900,000 homeowners and only 72,000 underwater homeowners have refinanced through the program.
Under Obama's recent proposal, homeowners' eligibility won't be affected by how far their home's value has fallen, some fees for closing, title insurance and lien processing will be eliminated and some fees for those who refinance into a shorter-term mortgage will be waived.
Additionally, the number of homeowners who need an appraisal will be reduced and banks won't have to buy back the mortgages from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, as they previously had to when dealing with some risky loans. This means many lenders will be free to offer refinance loans.
The program will also be extended 18 months, through 2013.
Robin Bozian, an attorney with Southeastern Ohio Legal Services in Marietta, said she's "certain" more local homeowners will be able to take advantage of HAMP.
"We have a number of clients that are thrilled they have these kinds of programs but it has been very difficult to qualify and some of the restrictions have hampered the number of folks who could've taken advantage," she said. "What interested me more than anything else was the focus on also relaxing the rule to allow for lowering of interest rates - that's been of particular concern to many folks we serve."
Bozian noted the office is currently handling 58 cases, which represents those who are in active foreclosure in Washington, Morgan, Noble and Monroe counties.