WE’RE HEARING that an Oregon pilot program might be the model the Treasury Department has been looking for to refinance borrowers who are trapped in underwater private-label loans that Bear Stearns and other issuers securitized before the subprime meltdown.

Treasury recently approved an Oregon pilot program that will use HAMP funds and funds from the National Mortgage Settlement to buy and refinance underwater loans.

The idea is based on a proposal by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who has been urging the Senate to pass legislation to provide relief for struggling homeowners—but without success.

Treasury Department officials have also been frustrated in their attempts to fashion refinancing programs for loans that are pooled into private-label securities.

It is very difficult to intervene in PLS when it comes to modifying the loans and the trustees of these securities have to be sure that any changes don’t jeopardize the tax status of the REMIC securities.

Working around those obstacles is very complex. But the Oregon pilot program might be the key for opening the door for refinancing those borrowers at a lower rate.

If it works, Treasury has the funds to back a larger program. The department has obligated $29.9 billion to the Home Affordable Modification Program. “Treasury estimates that $19.4 billion of the $29.4 billion remain available for future modifications and other interventions,” according to a recent General Accountability Office report.

Treasury is also backing a Nevada program with $100 million that will allow a newly formed nonprofit agency to buy delinquent and severely underwater mortgages. The borrower will not only benefit from a lower rate, but also from a principal reduction.

The first loans to be refinanced under the Nevada program may be FHA-insured loans.

OH, THOSE VINERS: Like the philosophers of old, the posters at our mortgagegrapevine.com community are willing to talk about anything under the sun. Here, for instance, is some speculation on how much meteor rock is worth. (Hundred bucks is the opening bid.) There was also considerable discussion of the Dorner chase and even, this is a little out there so we won’t get too specific, on the existence of naked self-portraits supposedly painted by one of our ex-presidents. In and around these, of course, were dozens of queries about business in the mortgage sector, which is the true worth of the Grapevine.

SHOUT OUT: We have promised to salute in this space any company that adds at least 10 net new hires. This is the way out of our tepid economic recovery. Government, believe it or not, will actually become more austere in the future. Consumers are still cautious. This leaves the private sector to take up the slack! This week we shout out to mortgage lender loanDepot, Foothill Ranch, Calif., which last year hired 550 people for a total of more than 1,000 since 2010. This year they are continuing the rush, adding three top executives this week: H. Lynn Ryan, EVP and CIO; Candis Duke, COO; and Jeff Walsh EVP.

MOST READ: Our longtime blogger Herman Thorsden snagged the coveted most read content lead this week, with a piece on a judge and mortgage fraud. Way to go, Herman! The most emailed content was a piece by Bloomberg analyzing the jumbo loan business of JMBS securitizer Redwood Trust. Redwood has been the main and sometimes only player in JMBS so if you are interested in the redevelopment of a nonagency mortgage market, this one’s for you!

Mark Fogarty is editorial director of the SourceMedia Mortgage Group and has been commenting on the mortgage market since 1984. Brian Collins is the group’s senior editor and D.C. bureau chief. He has worked the mortgage beat since 1988.