Professor Katherine V.W. Stone, of UCLA law school writes that in the “old economy”, periods of joblessness were a clear sign of an unreliable borrower, but not any more, as we are in a “new economy”. Professor Stone’s article is entitled “The 30 Year Prison”, and appears in the August 12, 2010 edition of The NY Times.
Professor Stone calls for a major changes to mortgages–a “flexible” mortgage with the borrower having an option to request a two-year period of “interest only” payments. She suggests that the Federal Housing Administration require that any mortgages it insures be set up to mandate that borrowers who are involuntarily out of work be allowed to convert to an interest-only loan for up to two years. She points out that since the FHA insures almost one-third of the mortgage housing market, in short order the mortgage industry would very likely follow suit, and that this practice would become the norm for all mortgages.
Professor stone writes: “It’s not as if the 30-year self-amortizing mortgage has been around forever. In fact, it is a fairly recent invention. Before the 1930s, homes were financed by three-to-five-year balloon loans. Homeowners made interest-only payments for the duration of the loan, then typically rolled them over into new loans when they came due. During the Great Depression, however, many borrowers were unemployed when their loans came due; banks were reluctant to offer new loans, and owners had not accumulated enough money to pay off their loans. The result was a wave of foreclosures. In response the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, created as part o the New Deal, developed a new kind of loan: instead of a few years of small payments followed by a very large one, homeowners would make regular payments of interest and principal for 30 years. In the old economy, periods of joblessness were a clear sign of an unreliable borrower. Today, they are simply a function of the job market, which flexible mortgages would take into account.”