‘I may go homeless,’ said a worker impacted by the government shutdown

Personal finance

Michael Thallheimer was looking forward to hosting Christmas Day at his new three-bedroom house in Rio Dell, California.

Then the government shutdown hit on Dec. 22, putting his USDA loan on hold. The government’s mortgage program for low- and middle-income Americans in rural areas is currently not issuing any new funds in the meantime.

Thallheimer doesn’t know how much longer his landlord will let him stay at his current rental house, from which he was supposed to be long gone.

“I may have to be homeless for awhile,” Thallheimer, 58, said.

The typical family that receives a USDA home loan earns between $30,000 and $60,000 a year, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“People who want to be homeowners aren’t able to do so,” said Sarah Mickelson, senior public policy director at the Coalition. “You could see sellers move on to other home buyers.”

The stalemate in Washington, one of the longest in history, is throwing a wrench into some people’s plans to buy a house, according to real estate experts. So far, nearly 40,000 mortgages could be caught up in the shutdown, according to online real estate firm Zillow.

More than 20 percent of realtors said they had either a current or prospective client impacted by the shutdown, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, which included responses from more than 2,000 members. “The shutdown is causing tangible harm to potential buyers, the real estate market and economic growth,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.

Heather Bergen, a real estate agent in Arcata, California, said one of her clients couldn’t verify her income for her mortgage lender, because the government office where she works is short-staffed. She was then unable to get a hold of a form she needs from the IRS, as many of the agency workers there are also absent.

“It’s at the lender’s discretion if they’re going to take on that extra risk and waive that requirement,” Bergen said.

The housing market in Escambia County, Florida, was already slowing down over the last few months, said John Rickmon, a broker there. “This is the dagger,” he said.

Like Bergen, he’s heard of home buyers struggling to obtain certain tax documents, as well as insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program — both requirements for many lenders.

He suspects many people are putting off their plans to purchase a new house until the shutdown resolves. “I haven’t had a new lead or call in several weeks,” he said.

Purchasing a house is unlikely a priority for the hundreds of thousands of employees who’ve seen their paychecks come to a halt, said Mike Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“Buying a home is a statement of optimism about your financial picture and you employment position,” Fratantoni said. “It’s going to be tougher to be optimistic given the amount of uncertainty in the environment right now.”

Potential delinquencies are also a concern, Fratantoni said. Federal employees owe around $250 million in monthly mortgage payments, according to Zillow.

Some people who need loans to take care of existing property are also at a standstill.

Stacey Gray is without running water in her RV in Louisville, Kentucky, after her water heater broke. She went to apply for a renovation loan through the Housing and Urban Development program, but the agency is closed during the shutdown.

“I don’t have hot water if I want to take a bath,” Gray, 39, said. In the meantime, she’s using public restrooms to brush her teeth and wash up. “It’s broken me,” she said.

Mickelson, at the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the shutdown is hurting the most vulnerable Americans.

“Those households are being forced to live in these poor conditions until Congress and the President stop playing political games,” she said.

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