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Obama Offers a Rescue Plan for Homeowners

U.S. could spend $275 billion in the biggest effort yet to help millions of people refinance or restructure their mortgages. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

President Barack Obama has a plan to deal with a central cause of the economic crisis: America's troubled housing market.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "Through this plan, we will help between seven and nine million families restructure or refinance their mortgages so they can avoid foreclosure."

The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan is the biggest effort yet to help struggling homeowners. It could cost as much as two hundred seventy-five billion dollars.

Under the plan, up to five million owners could refinance their loans through the two mortgage companies now controlled by the government. These people are current in their payments but unable to get lower interest rates because their home value has fallen.

Millions of owners are "underwater," meaning they owe more than their home is worth.

The government will ease rules for loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And it will buy an additional one hundred billion dollars of stock in each company.

Another part of the plan is expected to cost seventy-five billion. It could help as many as three to four million owners change the terms of their mortgages to avoid foreclosure.

The goal is to reduce monthly payments for five years to no more than thirty-one percent of the borrower's monthly income. If a lender agrees to a reduction, the government would partly match the amount.

Mortgage servicers, lenders and borrowers will receive incentive payments for the success of restructured loans.

Past efforts have excluded homeowners who continue to pay their loans. The Obama administration says the earlier those in trouble can get help, the more chance for long-term success.

But some critics say the plan does not do enough to deal with parts of the crisis, such as rewriting loans that were sold as securities.

The president announced the plan Wednesday in Arizona, a state with many houses repossessed by lenders. A day earlier, he signed his economic recovery plan in neighboring Colorado.

He says the housing plan will not help dishonest lenders or irresponsible borrowers, or save every home. "But," he says, "it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild."

The administration will release more detailed guidance on March fourth. It says major parts of the program use authority already provided by Congress, but some pieces require approval. For example: giving bankruptcy court judges new powers to reduce mortgages without lender approval -- so-called cramdowns.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Doug Johnson.