President Barack Obama unveiled a stopgap plan Monday to ease the bite of the real estate crisis for cash-strapped homeowners while attacking Congress for blocking spending to create more jobs.
"These steps aren't a substitute for the bold action we need to create jobs and grow the economy, but they will make a difference," Obama said.
Thwarted by Republican opposition to his bigger jobs and stimulus package, Obama has shifted tactics by looking for action he can take without congressional approval to provide at least modest economic relief.
"So I'm here to say to all of you... that we can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won't act, I will," Obama said.
Obama chose Las Vegas, the epicenter of the US real estate crash, to roll out measures to make it easier for people whose homes are now worth less than what they owe on them to refinance their mortgages at much lower interest rates.
Nevada has the highest unemployment of any US state at 13.4 percent, and housing prices have plunged 17 percent since the market burst four years ago, igniting the financial meltdown that sent the US economy into a nosedive.
"Nationwide, more than 10 million homeowners are underwater. That means they owe more than those houses are worth. And here in Las Vegas, the city hit hardest of all, almost the entire housing market is under severe stress," Obama said.
He acknowledged, however, that "the housing market won't be fully healed until the unemployment rate comes down and the inventory of homes on the market comes down."
"But that is no excuse for inaction. That is no excuse for just saying 'no' to Americans who need help right now. There is no excuse for the games and gridlock we've been seeing in Washington."
Obama travels later in the week to California and Colorado, where he will be highlighting other problems dragging down the economy, including education, the president's aides said.
There he plans to announce measures to help students better manage their student loan debt when they graduate, they said.
Republicans in Congress last week blocked the president's legislation aimed at boosting jobs, arguing that proposals that include tax hikes will hurt wealthy job creators and only add to the legions of unemployed Americans.
The combination of high unemployment and falling home prices has fed on itself since the housing market began to plunge, putting millions of homeowners in default and stalling any recovery in the market.
Moody's predicts that foreclosures will rise next year to a record 1.5 million.
Part of Obama's plan is to ease rules governing the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), which allows mortgages backed by financing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be refinanced at lower rates.
The HARP program, launched in 2009, aimed to help millions of hopelessly cash strapped homeowners, but in the end, provided relief to fewer than a million borrowers.
Under current rules, people whose home values are more than 25 percent below what they owe are disqualified from refinancing at lower rates.
Obama said the rule changes will lift that restriction, reduce closing costs, eliminate certain refinancing fees and encourage greater competition for refinancing business among lenders.
Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said refinancing could save homeowners $2,500 or more per year, "the equivalent of a substantial tax cut."
"Any borrower, independent of how underwater they are, is eligible," he said.