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Four months after President Barack Obama pledged $275 billion to shore up home sales, the engine that powered every U.S. recovery since 1960 is stalled. Bankers’ reluctance to finance buyers who won’t live in properties is one barrier to a turnaround. Stricter qualifying rules and a rise in the cost of residential loans to 5.42 percent have impeded new mortgage lending, which is at a 13-year low. An inventory of 2.1 million unoccupied houses on the market, created by the fastest foreclosure pace in history, may be a drag on a revival.
The $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit in the U.S. economic stimulus package and a government program to subsidize some mortgage payments have had little effect, according to Eric Belsky, executive director of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“It hasn’t been much more than a see-sawing of data,” Belsky said in an interview. “Housing has led the U.S. economy out of every recession for at least 50 years, and for that to happen again more stimulus is going to be needed.”
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