By Derek Kravitz
Washington — The Obama administration could turn thousands of government-owned foreclosures into rental properties to help boost falling home prices.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency said it was seeking input from investors on how to rent homes owned by government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.
The U.S. government rescued Fannie and Freddie in September 2008 and has funded them since the financial crisis. The mortgage giants own or guarantee about half of the nation’s mortgages and nearly all new mortgages.
At the end of last month, the government owned about 248,000 foreclosed homes, officials said. About 70,000 of those are listed for sale. But officials expect the number of foreclosures to soar in the coming months.
Many foreclosures have been stalled so attorneys general and federal regulators can investigate whether lenders cut corners and improperly handled thousands of cases. Once a settlement is finalized, foreclosures are expected to pick up again and further depress home prices.
Converting the homes into rentals might reduce “credit losses and help stabilize neighborhoods and home values,” said Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie.
Homes in foreclosure sell at a 20 percent discount on average, which can hurt prices of surrounding homes.
It also might meet the growing demand for rentals. Since the housing meltdown, nearly 3 million households have become renters. At least 3 million more are expected by 2015, according to census data analyzed by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and The Associated Press.
A federal “request for information” included an option for previous homeowners to rent the homes or for current renters to lease to own. Private investors also could be allowed to manage the rental properties.
Officials also are considering whether to only implement the program in areas hit hardest by foreclosures and in those with high demand for rental housing, such as Arizona and Florida.
The homes include single-family homes and condominiums. The deadline for responses is Sept. 15.