'Failed' Housing Programs: How Rental Market Will Benefit?

Federal efforts to help struggling homeowners are not working, and instead it's the owners of rental properties who are benefiting, said Gary Shilling, one of the economists who predicted the subprime mortgage crisis.

Shilling is forecasting that rentals will continue to provide "attractive returns" for years to come, while the housing market continues to flounder.

In an opinion piece for  Bloomberg, Shilling critiques three federal housing programs, charging "the administration hasn't given up on its failed attempts to aid housing."

In July, Shilling forecasted housing prices would fall another 20 percent in 2012.

Shilling,  president of A. Gary Shilling & Co. and author of "The Age of Deleveraging: Investment Strategies for a Decade of Slow Growth and Deflation," wrote in the third of a three-part opinion series for Bloomberg that Fannie Mae's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) is "hopeless."

"The administration initially said this program would relieve 3 million to 4 million distressed homeowners, but it's been a miserable failure," he wrote.

That program, created by the Financial Stability Act of 2009, was intended to lower monthly mortgage payments for homeowners who have a financial hardship and are  delinquent or in danger of falling behind. The lower payments are calculated at 31 percent of the homeowners' verified pre-tax income.

Shilling writes that through December 2011, 1.8 million HAMP trial modifications had been initiated, but the monthly pace of new modifications is dropping continually. Shilling is also critical that only 43 percent of the HAMP trial modificiations, or 762,839, made it to permanent status.

"Nevertheless, the administration still has hope for the program and has extended it through December 2012," Shilling writes.

However, the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) January scorecard indicates that more than 930,000 homeowners have received a HAMP permanent modification to date, saving an estimated $10.5 billion in monthly mortgage payments.

After six months in the program, more than 94 percent of homeowners remain in their permanent modi?cation, the report states.

Andrea Risotto, a spokeswoman for the Treasury department, which developed HAMP, said "offers for helping homeowners have far outpaced foreclosure completions to date."

The scorecard reports that 84 percent of homeowners entering HAMP in the past 18 months received a permanent modi?cation, with an average trial period of 3.5 months and that "HAMP modi?cations are sustainable for the majority of homeowners."

Whether or not the federal housing program is helping enough homeowners, rental prices continue to edge up. The rent component of the consumer price index is rising, up 0.2 percent from January, and up by 2.4 percent from 12 months ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Feb. 17.

"Washington's efforts to reverse the trend away from homeownership and toward rentals will probably continue to be futile, even though the National Association of Realtors reported this week that sales of existing homes increased 4.3 percent in January, to a 4.57 million annual rate, the highest level since May 2010," Shilling wrote on Friday.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m. eastern time, the monthly S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index will show whether home prices will continue on their downward path. Last month, it showed a higher-than-expected drop in home values as the 20-city index fell 3.7 percent from the previous year.