The U.S. real estate market may be in a second year of recovery; but home prices remain 26 percent shy of the 2006 peak, and nearly 10 million people are still underwater on their mortgages. Long-haul trucker Travis Armstrong is paying 7.5 percent interest on his loan, even though he has made payments for six years and has a credit score of about 800. “It’s OK to skip payments and get help, or walk away and let the bank foreclose, but I’m stuck with no help ’cause I keep making my payments every month,” he said in an interview. Diane Swonk, chief economist at Chicago-based Mesirow Financial Inc., says housing recovery has been unbalanced and that keeping the momentum going will need to involve assistance for underwater loans. The White House hopes to expand eligibility for the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). So far, Treasury has spent only a fifth of the $38.5 billion in funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program allocated for housing. To be eligible for HARP, borrowers must be current on government-backed mortgages. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has proposed legislation that would refinance mortgages held in private-label bonds. A pilot program in his home state, confined to Multnomah County, is similar on a smaller scale. That initiative uses funds from the Hardest Hit Fund, established by the Treasury in 2010 to give $7.6 billion to the District of Columbia and 18 states that suffered price declines of more than 20 percent during the housing bust or high unemployment during the financial crisis.