Housing and mortgage crisis lacks quick fix

There are rising fears that the country could topple into a recession.

The Bush administration is working to combat the US's severe housing crisis but there is no simple solution, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Monday, adding that a correction in the housing market is "inevitable and necessary." Paulson said the country was facing an unprecedented wave of 1.8 million subprime mortgages that are scheduled to reset to sharply higher rates over the next two years. He said this raised the threat of a market failure and was the reason the administration brokered a deal with the mortgage industry to freeze certain subprime mortgage rates for five years to allow the housing market to recover. "By preventing avoidable foreclosures, we will safeguard neighborhoods and communities and fulfill our responsibility of protecting the broader US economy," Paulson said in a speech in New York. "However, let me be clear: there is no single or simple solution that will undo the excesses of the last few years." He said the deal the administration brokered with the industry to freeze certain subprime mortgage rates for five years did not involve the use of any taxpayer money. Conservative critics have complained that the administration's plan represented government intrusion in the operation of markets that would end up rewarding some people who had taken out risky mortgages. In his speech, Paulson raised the possibility that some sort of "systematic approach" may need to be developed to help homeowners with other types of adjustable-rate mortgages that are resetting to higher rates. The current plan only involves subprime mortgages - loans offered to borrowers with weak credit histories. The steep slump in housing has been a serious drag on the overall economy. There are rising fears that the country could topple into a recession. Those worries were heightened after a report Friday showing that the unemployment rate jumped to a two-year high of 5 percent in December with job growth slowing to a crawl. Paulson called the current housing correction inevitable after what occurred during the five-year boom in which sales and prices climbed to record levels. "After years of unsustainable price appreciation and lax lending practices, a housing correction is inevitable and necessary," he said. Paulson said the correction was taking a toll on the US economy that would continue for a period of months. "It will take additional time for markets to regain confidence," he said. "The overhang of unsold homes will contribute to a prolonged adjustment and poses by far the biggest downside risk."