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Here's some unexpected good news for investors who own rental apartment properties and are having trouble financing or refinancing because of the credit freeze: FHA has decided to step up to the plate and provide more long-term multifamily mortgage money -- at least for the next six months.

In a new memo to lenders, FHA announced that it is temporarily suspending its ban against insuring loans on apartment properties that haven't been completed and operating for at least three years.

The suspension allows purchasers and refinancers of buildings with five or more rental units to obtain FHA-insured financing even if the property was built or substantially rehabilitated within the past year or two.

FHA financing often is much less costly than other mortgage sources and offers fixed rate terms up to 35 years. But to qualify under the agency's basic "Section 223- F" multifamily program projects must be deemed "fully operating and self sustaining," that is, they've got to have proven track records of rental income and sound management practices.

The new memo said FHA now recognizes that many apartment properties are facing severe difficulties in obtaining financing because traditional sources in the private mortgage bond market have disappeared in the wake of the capital crisis on Wall Street.

To help out, FHA will now consider applications under Section 223-F if the property is newly built and received a certificate of occupancy as recently as July 31 of last year.

The agency is placing a number of restrictions on applications, however, all intended to ensure that the financed properties will not end up as losses on FHA's insurance fund.

Among the key requirements are these:

  • Applicants will need to document their unsuccessful efforts to obtain permanent financing elsewhere. This includes turndowns from conventional market lenders or actual cancellations of financing.
  • Evidence of on-time payments on any current mortgages secured by the property must be submitted to FHA.
  • Applicants will need to document rental reserves and operating cash flows, including a certified rent roll level of occupancy for the most recent three month period totaling at least 90 percent of the units in the property. The agency also wants to see copies of any market studies and updates that were used to justify the existing financing on the property.

Outgoing FHA Commissioner Brian Montgomery, who issued the memo, said the agency "recognizes the need to provide liquidity" to investors in rental apartment projects who are caught in the financing squeeze affecting the industry -- and will do its part to assist high-quality projects.

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