President Obama Announces New Housing Initiatives

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(CNN WIRE) The White House is trying to help more people stay in their homes or save money on their mortgages, by making it easier for people with FHA home loans to refinance.

President Obama unveiled this plan during a news conference where he also answered questions on several other issues including Iran and Israel.

Below is a transcript from his briefing this afternoon.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Now, I understand there are some political contests going on tonight, but I thought I’d start the day off by taking a few questions, which I’m sure will not be political in nature. Before I do, I want to make a few announcements about some steps we’re taking to help responsible homeowners who’ve been struggling through this housing crisis.

We've clearly seen some positive economic news over the last few months. Businesses have created about 3.7 million new jobs over the last two years. Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s. The auto industry is back and hiring more than 200,000 people over the last few years. Confidence is up. And the economy is getting stronger.

But there are still millions of Americans who can’t find a job. There are millions more who are having a tough time making the rent or the mortgage, paying for gas or groceries. So our job in Washington isn’t to sit back and do nothing. And it’s certainly not to stand in the way of this recovery. Right now we've got to do everything we can to speed it up.

Now, Congress did the right thing when they passed part of my jobs plan and prevented a tax hike on 160 million working Americans this year. And that was a good first step. But it’s not enough. They can’t just stop there and wait for the next election to come around. There are a few things they can do right now that could make a real difference in people’s lives.

This Congress should, once and for all, end tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas, and use that money to reward companies that are creating jobs here in the United States. I’ve put forward a proposal that does just that, and there’s no reason why Congress can't come together and start acting on it.

This Congress could hold a vote on the Buffett Rule so that we don’t have billionaires paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That’s just common sense. The vast majority of Americans believe it’s common sense. And if we’re serious about paying down our deficit, it’s as good a place to start as any.

And finally, this Congress should pass my proposal to give every responsible homeowner a chance to save an average of $3,000 a year by refinancing their mortgage at historically low rates. No red tape. No runaround from the banks. If you’ve been on time on your payments, if you've done the right thing, if you've acted responsibly, you should have a chance to save that money on your home -- perhaps to build up your equity, or just to have more money in your pocket that you can spend on businesses in your community. That would make a huge difference for millions of American families.

Now, if Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them. Last fall, we announced an initiative that allows millions of responsible homeowners to refinance at low interest rates. Today we're taking it a step further -- we are cutting by more than half the refinancing fees that families pay for loans ensured by the Federal Housing Administration. That's going to save the typical family in that situation an extra $1,000 a year, on top of the savings that they'd also receive from refinancing. That would make refinancing even more attractive to more families. It's like another tax cut that will put more money in people's pockets. We're going to do this on our own. We don't need congressional authorization to do it.

We're also taking a series of steps to help homeowners who have served our country. It is unconscionable that members of our armed forces and their families have been some of those who have been most susceptible to losing their homes due to the actions of unscrupulous banks and mortgage lenders. Over the last few years that happened -- a lot.

So as part of the landmark settlement we reached with some of the nation's largest banks a few weeks ago, here's what we're going to do: If you are a member of the armed forces whose home was wrongfully foreclosed, you will be substantially compensated for what the bank did to you and your family. If you are a member of the armed forces with a high interest rate who was wrongfully denied the chance to lower it while you were in active serve, which banks are required to do by law, the banks will refund you the money you would have saved along with a significant penalty.

The settlement will make sure that you aren't forced into foreclosure just because you have a permanent change in station but can't sell your home because you owe more than it's worth. Some of the money will also go into a fund that guarantees loans on favorable terms to our veterans, and there will be more foreclosure protections for every man and woman who is currently serving this country in harm's way.

As I've said before, no amount of money is going to be enough to make it right for a family who has had their piece of the American Dream wrongfully taken away from them, and no action -- no matter how meaningful -- will entirely heal our housing market on its own. This is not something the government by itself can solve. But I'm not one of those people who believe that we should just sit by and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. There are real things that we can do right now that would make a substantial difference in the lives of innocent, responsible homeowners. That's true in housing, and that's true in any number of different areas when it comes to ensuring that this recovery touches as many lives as possible. That's going to be my top priority as long as I hold this office, and I will do everything I can to make that progress.