Foreclosure Freeze Could Drag Down Property Values, Housing Chief Warns

Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan said Sunday that a national freeze on foreclosures would "do far more harm than good," pushing back against those calling for a blanket moratorium following claims that lenders may have used faulty paperwork to evict homeowners.

Donovan called the alleged corner-cutting "shameful" in a column published Sunday, days after attorneys general in all 50 states opened probes into the matter. He backed banks that have imposed "voluntary moratoria" but stopped short of supporting a broader ban.

"A national, blanket moratorium on all foreclosure sales would do far more harm than good -- hurting homeowners and homebuyers alike at a time when foreclosed homes make up 25 percent of home sales," Donovan wrote in his Huffington Post column.

Donovan explained that a blanket freeze could block first-time homebuyers from entering the market while ensuring that foreclosed homes stay vacant and drag down home prices in surrounding neighborhoods.

"Right now, families who have watched their home values decline over the last few years want nothing more than homebuyers ... to buy the vacant homes in their neighborhoods," he wrote.

"These homeowners are at risk, too -- and the best hope they have is for the 'Foreclosed' signs in front of the vacant, abandoned properties on their block to come down, so that the value of their homes can start rising again."

Donovan nevertheless cheered the Obama administration's and states' efforts to investigate the problem. He said the administration will respond "with the full force of the law where problems are found" in the course of its "comprehensive review."

"No one should lose their home as a result of a bank mistake," he said.

Several lawmakers and top advocacy groups such as the NAACP have called for a foreclosure moratorium until investigators can determine where banks cut corners and how widespread the problem is.

While top administration figures disagree with this approach, law enforcement officials at the same time dispute the mortgage and banking industry's claim that the complaints center on technicalities.

Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who has filed suit against GMAC, told Fox News the lenders can't chalk up the problems to "sloppy paperwork."

"That they have filed fraudulent affidavits in tens of thousands of cases shows that they have a business model based on fraud," he told Fox News. "We're trying to hold them accountable and let them know they have to take this seriously."

He added, "It is potentially a large problem, but we don't know as we start our investigation where all it's going to go."