New York homeowners at risk of foreclosure will benefit from two promising developments announced last week: the groundbreaking purchase of New York City mortgage notes from the Federal Housing Authority and new reforms to the federal government’s Distressed Asset Stabilization Program.

The New York City mortgage purchase initiative is notable because it is the first of its kind in the nation to purchase mortgages directly from the federal government. Known as the Community Restoration Program, it will work to keep families whose mortgages have been purchased in their homes through principal reduction and other methods aimed at lowering monthly payments. The initial pool of 24 properties comprises 41 homes, and the Community Restoration Program is actively seeking to grow the program by finding additional opportunities to acquire notes. The Center is one of the program’s non-profit partners, and will work to connect homeowners to foreclosure prevention services.

If New York City hadn’t stepped in to purchase these mortgages, they would have been sold at auction to the highest bidder through DASP. That program is administered by the FHA as a means of removing so-called “nonperforming” mortgages from its books and putting them up for auction. Loans sold through DASP have almost exclusively been purchased by large investment funds, which, critics argue, often have little interest in working with the families on the other end of the transaction.

These critics found support in a recent New York Times article examining the growing role of private equity firms in the housing market that found that private equity firms “are repeating the mistakes that banks committed throughout the housing crisis,” and that their behavior is enabled by federal government programs like DASP. For instance, the Times analyzed Loan Star Funds, a major purchaser of nonperforming notes, and found that it had acted aggressively in pushing thousands of borrowers toward foreclosure. In a previous analysis, the Times documented cases where Caliber Home Loans, the servicing firm for Lone Star Funds, refused to work with homeowners, failed to provide feasible loan modifications and rushed homes into foreclosure. Caliber is currently under investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for potential violations of national and state servicing rules.

Critics found further support in a study released last week by the Center for American Progress that found that the vast majority of notes sold through the program are located in communities that were hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis, particularly communities of color. The report called for better options for homeowners once their notes are sold and increased transparency of DASP, among other reforms.

Following these reports last week, the FHA announced substantial reforms to DASP. For the first time, investors must consider principal reduction as a first option for borrowers when evaluating them for a modification. The FHA will also limit interest rate increases following a five-year interest-only modification, which addresses homeowner complaints about the unsustainable modifications commonly offered by servicers like Caliber. Additionally, the FHA will prohibit DASP purchasers from abandoning lower-value homes in their pools — a major concern in communities suffering from vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties. Finally, the FHA announced several initiatives to make it easier for non-profits and local governments to purchase notes: The agency will now  allow non-profits to bid on partial note pools, provide guidance on the sale of notes directly to local governments, and conduct outreach to non-profits and local governments to encourage participation.

These welcome reforms are much-needed and will surely provide better options to homeowners whose notes are sold through DASP. In particular, the new emphasis on principal reduction is welcome, though investors are only required to consider it as an option.  (By contrast, the Community Restoration Program plans to aggressively reduce principal for underwater homeowners). However, the reforms do not apply to the over 100,000 mortgages already sold through the program. Additionally, there is much work ahead to ensure these improvements are effectively implemented and enforced.

Taken together, the New York City Community Restoration Program’s first purchase and the announcement of DASP reforms represent a major step forward for homeowners and their communities, both in New York City and nationwide.

Congratulations to our partners in the Community Restoration Program: the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, MHANY Management, Inc., Neighborhood Restore Housing Development Fund Corporation, and the National Community Stabilization Trust. Thank you to the many supporters of this initial purchase, which include the New York City Council, particularly Council Members Garodnick, Richards, and Miller, Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, LISC, and Attorney General Schneiderman.