UPDATE 2-U.S. housing agency likely to tap Treasury funds -sources
* No decision yet on how much FHA may need -sources
* White House predicted $943 million draw in April
* Republicans say FHA was irresponsible propping up market
By Margaret Chadbourn
WASHINGTON, Sept 25 (Reuters) - The Federal Housing Administration will likely soon seek a cash infusion from the U.S. Treasury for the first time in its nearly 80-year history to help it cover losses from souring loans, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The agency, which offers private mortgage lenders guarantees against homeowner default, has nearly exhausted its reserves for the mortgages it backs. Housing officials have yet to determine how much money the FHA may need to draw, the sources said.
Losses on loans made from 2005-2008 as the market was heading south have eaten away at the agency's cash reserves. While it is reaping profits from more recent mortgages, those profits are not expected to be large enough to make up the shortfall.
Many conservative Republicans have expressed concern that the FHA provided too much credit to unworthy borrowers during the housing crisis, and they cried foul on Wednesday.
"The FHA has been going down an irresponsible path for years," said Senator David Vitter, a Republican member of the Senate Banking Committee. "Instead of managing their funds responsibly, and making appropriate reforms, FHA prefers to lean on taxpayers to bail them out, and enough is enough."
The White House projected in April that the FHA would face a shortfall of $943 million for the fiscal year that ends on Monday, but the agency said it would wait until the end of the budget year to make a decision on whether to draw Treasury aid.
At that time, the FHA said it would see whether or not steps it took to raise funds and the improvement in the housing market would close its funding gap.
By law, the FHA is able to automatically access Treasury funds if it depletes it reserves, but it has never had to. In the past few years, it has taken a number of actions, including raising insurance premiums and tightening underwriting standards, to stay solvent.
The government mortgage insurer plays a key role in helping those with low and modest incomes obtain credit to purchase a home. Consumer advocates maintain the support it has given to low-income borrowers and the housing market as a whole has been worthwhile.
The FHA insures about $1.1 trillion in mortgages and supports 15 percent of all U.S. mortgages, up from about 5 percent in 2006.
It is legally required to keep a 2 percent capital ratio, which is a measure of the fund's ability to withstand losses. It has failed to meet that threshold for a number of years.
A representative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the FHA, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
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