McCain And Obama On The Mortgage Mess

Where They Stand

To help you make an informed decision in the presidential election, CBS News is devoting a large part of our broadcasts until Nov. 4 to telling you where the candidates stand on major issues - from the war in Iraq to health insurance to education … and a lot more. Each piece will be an in-depth look at the issues facing the 44th president. In this installment, CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports on how the proposed policies of Barack Obama and John McCain to tackle how the mortgage crisis would affect you.

The Issue

In the city built on taking risks, there are far too many signs of a housing market gone bust. Just ask Adriana Camejo and Deanne O'Rear.

"Yes I do need help...badly," Camejo said.

"I honestly never would have expected this," O'Rear said. "Never"

Both are about to lose their homes in middle-class neighborhoods in Las Vegas - one of the hardest-hit cities in the nation. In fact, one in every 35 households in the metro area recently received a foreclosure notice. That's nearly 22,000 homes.

Camejo bought her home two years ago as a place for her son, Joseph, to grow up. She applied for a no-money-down, sub-prime loan and said the lender told her she had a 6 percent interest rate. It turned out to be 11 percent.

"Do you feel like they took advantage of you?" Tracy asked.

"Oh yeah, definitely, because I didn't have any prior education to buying the house," Camejo said.

As the loan payments grew, Camejo worked in a casino kitchen until 3 a.m. to make extra money. But when her husband was laid off, they fell behind and are now facing foreclosure.

"What is it like every day to deal with this?" Tracy asked.

"Tough, because my son tells me every day that he doesn't want to lose the house that he loves this house and he doesn't want to move," Camejo said.

Across town, O'Rear's foreclosure notice was especially embarrassing, because she gives mortgage advice to home-buyers.

"Still to this day it's embarrassing," said O'Rear, who works as a mortgage consultant. "It's hard to believe I'm even talking to you right now."

When the housing market tanked, so did O'Rear's commissions as a mortgage consultant. She couldn't keep up with payments on the home she bought 10 years ago, so she declared bankruptcy and tried to work out a deal with her lender - but got the run-around.

"I know where to go, I know who to go to, I know all of the entities, and still could not get anything done," she said.

A record four million Americans are either behind on their mortgage payments or facing foreclosure. With home values dropping, many are wondering where the candidates stand on the housing crisis.

The Candidates

With the mortgage mess taking down some of the biggest names on Wall St., the candidates say help for homeowners is on the way.

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama both support a new federal housing program, beginning in October, which could help as many as 400,000 families. It encourages lenders to swap their customers' risky home loans for new 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, backed by the government.

"This will not be a windfall for borrowers," Obama said on May 27. "They're going to have to share any capital gains as the housing market stabilizes and their property values start going up again."

And that's something else both candidates agree on: No help for spectators or risk takers.

On April 10, 2008, McCain said: "It is not the responsibility of the American public to spare them from the consequences of their own bad judgment."

Overall, McCain favors less government intervention. He does support bolstering community groups that provide mortgage assistance. He also wants a specific government task force to investigate fraud in the mortgage-lending industry.

"If there were individuals or firms that defrauded innocent homeowners ... they must answer for their conduct in a court of law," McCain said.

While McCain supports the recent government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he says he wants to downsize and eventually privatize them.

He's called for: "More oversight, more transparency, more of everything. And frankly, a dramatic reduction in what they do."

Obama also supports the bailout and calls for more regulation.

"If you expect the federal government to step in and to provide support if something goes wrong, then you're going to have to follow by our rules," he said on Sept. 8.

The rest of Obama's at least $10 billion housing plan calls for a larger government role than McCain's. He wants low-income homeowners to get a 10 percent mortgage tax credit, new criminal penalties for those convicted of fraud, a mortgage-rating system to educate homebuyers about their mortgage options and the creation of a foreclosure-prevention fund.

"If the government can bail out investment banks on Wall Street, then we can extend a hand to folks who are struggling on Main Street," he said on May 27.

Obama also wants to change bankruptcy laws to allow judges to modify a homeowner's mortgage payments.

The Impact

Obama's plan may have helped Deanne O'Rear. She declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but soon found out it wouldn't save her house.

"How big of a difference would it make for you if the bankruptcy courts could help refinance the terms of your mortgage?" Tracy asked.

"It would make all the difference in the world," O'Rear said.

Ben Tracy gives some background for this story at Couric & Co.
Learn more about the "ground zero" of the mortgage mess.
Adriana Camejo would likely qualify for the new federal program supported by both candidates - converting her high interest and risky adjustable-rate mortgage into a stable 30-year loan.

"What would you think about a plan like that?" Tracy said.

Camejo said: "That would be great, as long as the payments don't go up. I think that would help."

Yet Camejo knows this is not just a government problem - she says homebuyers need to do their homework.

"Get informed first. And make sure that you read everything that you're going to sign," Camejo said.

Because you don't have to live in Vegas to know that owning a home these days is no longer a sure bet.

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    Ben Tracy is a CBS News White House correspondent based in Washington, D.C.