(Reuters) – Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Monday agreed on a measure that would increase the maximum size of mortgage loans that can be insured by the Federal Housing Administration, a key funding source for U.S. home loans.
The measure to raise the loan limits backed by the FHA still has to pass the Republican-led house and Democrat-controlled Senate before it becomes law, but the agreement by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers from both chambers indicates a strong likelihood of final approval.
The limits, which vary by real-estate markets, fell at the end of September for mortgages insured by the FHA, as well as government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac . The higher loan limit was temporarily raised for Fannie, Freddie and the FHA during the financial crisis and it automatically dropped back to $625,500 on Oct. 1.
The agreement reached among House and Senate leaders excludes those loans guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie, which provide about half of the funding of all U.S. residential home loans. The deal would only impact FHA’s loan limits, restoring the cap for mortgages the government insures to as high as $729,750 in high-cost real estate markets through 2013.
The agreement follows a polarizing debate over the size of mortgages the federal government should back. The measure to increase the legal limits on the size of mortgages the FHA can insure was included in a bill to fund a large swath of government programs, from food inspection to law enforcement, that is seen as must-pass legislation for many lawmakers.
The legislation containing the amendment extends funding on a temporary basis for many government programs through Dec. 16, giving Congress additional time to finalize funding levels.
The House and the Senate must pass the bill by Nov. 18, when current funding expires.