With home prices tumbling and foreclosures rising, the Senate last Saturday approved the massive housing rescue bill, sending it to the White House for President George W. Bush’s promised signature.

It is expected to become law this week, without the pomp and publicity usually associated with such events. “Look, we’re going to try to get it done as quickly as possible,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters today in a press briefing. “The President's schedule is packed, and we don't have a signing ceremony for every bill. So we'll sign it and get it into law.”

Once signed, the package will touch just about every aspect of the housing market, from regulation of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who have been hammered by worried domestic and overseas investors, to first-time home buyers, who will be eligible for a $7,500 tax credit (which is really long-term loan from the government that must be paid back over time) if they purchase a house between April 9 of this year and July 1, 2009.

It will make widespread changes at the Federal Housing Administration and FHA-backed loans, including the controversial elimination of equally controversial seller-funded down-payment assistance. It will also empower the FHA to back $300 billion worth of mortgages for homeowners who cannot afford their current payments, allowing them to refinance into FHA-guaranteed loans as long as their lenders agree to reduce the existing loan to 90 percent of the home’s current value. (If that sounds like a significant haircut for lenders, it will be.)

Finally, it will attempt to help localities deal with the aftereffects of the housing bust—the empty, foreclosed homes eroding property values in surrounding neighborhoods—by providing nearly $4 billion in community development block grants and $11 billion in municipal bond authority to states.

How will this affect builders and the new-home market?  This week, BUILDER will let you know as we examine each portion of this historic legislation and the likely impact on builders. 

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.