Omnibus Bill to Nix Higher VA Limits, FHA Counseling










WASHINGTON — The spending bill unveiled by lawmakers Tuesday would end higher limits on loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and reject two Federal Housing Administration funding proposals.

The VA has recently guaranteed loans of up to $1.05 million in some high cost areas of California and Massachusetts. But under the comprehensive spending agreement released by the House and Senate appropriations chairs, the current maximum VA loan limits would not be extended for another year. As a result, the maximum loan limit in the lower 48 states would fall back to $625,500 starting Jan. 1. (Hawaii and Alaska would retain higher limits.)

According to VA estimates, without an extension 84 counties in 14 states would have loan limit reductions next year, and 14,000 veterans who qualified for the program under the higher limits last year would not be able obtain a no-down payment VA-guaranteed loan.

The omnibus bill — which congressional leaders would like to vote on this week — would also prohibit the FHA from implementing its Homeowners Armed with Knowledge program, which aims to lower mortgage insurance premiums for borrowers who complete a housing counseling program.

“None of the funds made available by this Act nor any receipts or amounts collected under any Federal Housing Administration program may be used to implement the Homeowners Armed with Knowledge (HAWK) program,” according to language in the spending bill.

The legislation would also kill another FHA proposal to charge a fee on federally insured loans to finance technology improvements at the agency. Although Senate appropriators had supported the 4-basis point fee, industry groups had opposed it and it was stripped from the final version of the omnibus bill.

Paulina McGrath, who chairs the Community Mortgage Lenders of America, said the association “is pleased to have succeeded in blocking” the new fee.

“Mid-sized and small community-based lenders help many consumers, particularly first-time buyers, to realize their homeownership aspirations with FHA-insured mortgages,” she said. “The last thing that those consumers, and the lenders who serve them, needed were additional fees that increased the cost of their home loans.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association opposed the fee because it would have been open-ended.

“If the fee was on a limited basis, we could have supported that,” MBA president and chief executive David Stevens said in an interview.

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