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Bush signs housing rescue law

NEW YORK, July 31 — President Bush on Wednesday signed into law a sweeping housing bill that aims to boost the struggling housing market and bolster mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The Senate voted 72-13 in favor of the bill on Saturday, after the House passed it three days earlier.

"We look forward to put in place new authorities to improve confidence and stability in markets, and to provide better oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "The Federal Housing Administration will begin to implement new policies intended to keep more deserving American families in their homes."

The new law, one of the most far-reaching on housing in decades, marks the centerpiece of Washington\’s efforts to address the nation\’s housing meltdown.

The legislation has two principal objectives: to offer affordable government-backed mortgages to homeowners at risk of foreclosure, and to bolster Fannie and Freddie with a temporary rescue plan and a new, more stringent regulator.

The White House last week reversed its long-standing threat to veto the bill. In fact, the administration still objects to parts of the legislation, including aid to states to buy foreclosed properties.

But the president decided to sign it since "oversight of the housing government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and the new temporary authorities requested by [Treasury] Secretary [Henry] Paulson are urgently needed now, and they\’ll contribute to confidence and stability in housing and financial markets," Fratto said last week.

A larger role for the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA will be allowed to insure up to $300 billion in new 30-year fixed-rate mortgages for at-risk borrowers in owner-occupied homes if their lenders agree to write down loan balances to 90% of the homes\’ current appraised value.

The cost of the new FHA program – which would begin on Oct. 1 and be in place for just a few years – will be funded by fees from Fannie and Freddie, along with fees paid by both lenders and borrowers.

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While the law authorizes the FHA to insure up to $300 billion in loans, the CBO estimates that the agency is only likely to insure up to $68 billion and help keep roughly 325,000 people in their homes. Those estimates were based on the CBO\’s assessment of who is likely to qualify under the program and accounts for a certain number likely to default anyway.

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