WASHINGTON – A rising tide of late mortgage payments and home foreclosures poses considerable dangers to the U.S. economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned anew as he urged Congress to take additional steps to alleviate the problems.
"High rates of delinquency and foreclosure can have substantial spillover effects on the housing market, the financial markets and the broader economy," Bernanke said in a dinner speech at the Columbia Business School in New York. "Therefore, doing what we can to avoid preventable foreclosures is not just in the interest of lenders and borrowers. It's in everybody's interest," he said.
Some 1.5 million U.S. homes entered into the foreclosure process last year, up 53 percent from 2006, Bernanke said. The rate of new foreclosures looks likely to be even higher this year, he said.
To provide more relief, Bernanke again called on Congress to give the Federal Housing Administration, which insures mortgages, more flexibility to help distressed borrowers at risk of losing their homes. He also again urged lawmakers to move ahead on legislation revamping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which finance mortgages. And, he called on the two mortgage giants to quickly raise new capital.
House leaders plan action on those and other housing measures this week.
"Conditions in mortgage markets remain quite difficult," the Fed chief said.