March 27, 2015

Housing out of Thin Air

By David Reiss

NYU’s Furman Center has posted a policy brief, Creating Affordable Housing out of Thin Air: The Economics of Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning in New York City. It opens,

In May 2014, New York City’s new mayor released an ambitious housing agenda that set forth a multi-pronged, ten-year plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. One of the most talked-about initiatives in the plan was encapsulated in its statement, “In future re-zonings that unlock substantial new housing capacity, the city must require, not simply encourage, the production of affordable housing in order to ensure balanced growth, fair housing opportunity, and diverse neighborhoods.” In other words, the city intends to combine upzoning with mandatory inclusionary zoning in order to increase the supply of affordable housing and promote economic diversity. (1)
Inclusionary zoning, “using land use regulation to link development of market-rate housing units to the creation of affordable housing,” is seen by many as a low-cost policy to support a broader affordable housing approach. (2) There is a limit to the reach of such a program because developers will only build if the overall project pencils out, including any units of mandatory inclusionary zoning.
The policy brief’s conclusions are important:
In many neighborhoods, including some that the city has already targeted for the new program, market rents are too low to justify new mid- and high-rise construction, so additional density would offer no immediate value to developers that could be used to cross-subsidize affordable units. In these areas, inclusionary zoning will need to rely on direct city subsidy for the time being if it is to generate any new units at all regardless of the income level they serve.
Where high rents make additional density valuable, there is capacity to cross-subsidize new affordable units without direct subsidy, but the development of a workable inclusionary zoning policy will be complex. The amount of affordable housing the city could require without dampening the rate of new construction or relying on developers to accept lower financial returns or landowners to be willing to sell at lower prices will vary widely depending on a neighborhood’s market rent, the magnitude of the upzoning, and, to a lesser extent, on the level of affordability required in the rent-restricted units. Where developers must provide the required affordable housing, and whether they can instead pay a fee directly to the city, also bears heavily on the number of affordable units a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy has the potential to generate, but raises other difficult issues. (14-15)
The de Blasio Administration’s housing and land use team is very sophisticated (including the Furman Center’s former director, Vicki Been, now Commissioner at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development), so the City will be well aware of these constraints on a mandatory inclusionary housing program. Nonetheless, it will be of great importance to design a flexible program that can adapt to changing market conditions to ensure that such a program is actually a spur to new development and not merely a well-intentioned initiative.

March 27, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

March 27, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 26, 2015

FIRREA Wall

By David Reiss

Courts have read the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) very broadly, giving the federal government a powerful weapon in its lawsuits against financial institutions regarding events relating to the financial crisis. Judge Swain (SDNY) has issued a rare Opinion and Order limiting the reach of FIRREA, FDIC v. Bear Stearns Asset Backed Securities I LCC et al. (No. 12CV4000, Mar. 24, 2015), a suit over allegedly rotten residential mortgage-backed securities.

The limitation derives from a pretty technical Supreme Court opinion, CTS Corp. v. Waldburger. In CTS, the Supreme Court held that statutes of repose were not preempted by a statute that has identical language as the FDIC Extender Provision found in FIRREA and at issue in FDIC v. Bear Stearns.

I warned you that this is technical, so here is what is at issue:

Claims brought under Section 11 of the 1933 Act are subject to the two-pronged timing provision of Section 13 of that Act, which is codified as 15 U.S.C. § 77m. The first prong of Section 13 is a statute of limitations, which provides that Section 11 claims must be brought within one year of “the discovery of the untrue statement or the omission, or after such discovery should have been made by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” 15 U.S.C.S. § 77m (LexisNexis 2012). The statute of limitations may be tolled based on equitable considerations, but not beyond three years from the date of the relevant offering, at which point a plaintiff’s claim is extinguished by Section 13’s second prong – a statute of repose – which provides that “[i]n no event shall any such action be brought . . . more than three years after the security was bona fide offered to the public.” Id.

The FDIC asserts that its claims are timely, notwithstanding the three-year Section 13 statute of repose, because the statute of repose is preempted by the FDIC Extender Provision . . .. (6)

Relying on CTS Corp. v. Wadburger, the Judge Swain concludes that “the FDIC Extender Provision does not preempt the statute of repose set forth in Section 13 of the 1933 Act.” (14-15)

The reasoning in FDIC v. Bear Stearns does not apply to all FIRREA claims, but it would apply to some meaningful subset of them. One of the most powerful things about FIRREA is its very long statute of limitations. If other courts follow FDIC v. Stearns, it could have a meaningful impact on the reach of FIRREA.

March 26, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Round-up

By Serenna McCloud

March 26, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 25, 2015

Frannie Conservatorships: What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

By David Reiss

The Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General has posted a White Paper, FHFA’s Conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: A Long and Complicated Journey. This White Paper on conservatorships updates a first one that OIG published in 2012. This one notes that over the past six years,

FHFA has administered two conservatorships of unprecedented scope and simultaneously served as the regulator for these large, complex companies that dominate the secondary mortgage market and the mortgage securitization sector of the U.S. housing finance industry. Congress granted FHFA sweeping conservatorship authority over the Enterprises. For example, as conservator, FHFA can exercise decision-making authority over the Enterprises’ multi-trillion dollar books of business; it can direct the Enterprises to increase the fees they charge to guarantee mortgage-backed securities; it can mandate changes to the Enterprises’ credit underwriting and servicing standards for single-family and multifamily mortgage products; and it can set policy governing the disposition of the Enterprises’ inventory of approximately 121,000 real estate owned properties. (2)

I was particularly interested by the foreward looking statements contained in this White Paper:

Director Watt has repeatedly asserted that conservatorship “cannot and should not be a permanent state” for the Enterprises. Director Watt has indicated that under his stewardship FHFA will continue the conservatorships and build a bridge to a new housing finance system, whenever that system is put into place by Congress. In this phase of the conservatorships, FHFA seeks to place more decision-making in the hands of the Enterprises. (3)

Those who have been hoping that the FHFA will act decisively in the face of Congressional inaction should let that dream go. And given that just about nobody believes (I still hope though) that there will be Congressional reform of Fannie and Freddie during the remainder of the Obama Administration, we must face the reality that we are stuck with the conservatorships and all of the risks that they foster for the foreseeable future. Today’s risks include historically high rates of mortgage delinquencies and exposure to defaults by counterparties like private mortgage insurers. As I have said before, the risks that Fannie and Freddie are nothing to laugh at. Let’s hope that the FHFA is up to managing them until Congress finally acts.

March 25, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

March 25, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 24, 2015

Transferring Risk from Fannie & Freddie

By David Reiss

The Federal Housing Finance Agency has posted its FHFA Progress Report on the Implementation of FHFA’s Strategic Plan for the Conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As its name suggests, it provides a progress report on a range of topics, but I was particularly interested in its section on credit risk transfers for single-family credit guarantees:

The 2014 Conservatorship Strategic Plan’s goal of reducing taxpayer risk builds on the Enterprises’ previous risk transfer efforts. Under the 2013 Conservatorship Scorecard, FHFA expressed the expectation that each Enterprise would conduct risk transfer transactions involving single-family loans with an unpaid principal balance (UPB) of at least $30 billion. The 2014 Conservatorship Scorecard tripled the required risk transfer amount, with the expectation that each Enterprise would transfer a substantial portion of the credit risk on $90 billion in UPB of new mortgage-backed securitizations. FHFA also expected each Enterprise to execute a minimum of two different types of credit risk transfer transactions. FHFA required the Enterprises to conduct all activities undertaken in fulfillment of these objectives in a manner consistent with safety and soundness. During 2014, the two Enterprises executed credit risk transfers on single-family mortgages with a UPB of over $340 billion, which is well above the required amounts. (14)

Risk transfer is an important tool to reduce the risks that taxpayers will be on the hook for future bailouts. The mechanism for these risk transfer deals are not well understood because they are pretty new. The Progress Report describes how they work in relatively clear terms:

The primary way that the Enterprises have executed single-family credit risk transfers to date has been through debt-issuance programs. Freddie Mac transactions are called Structured Agency Credit Risk (STACR) notes, and Fannie Mae transactions are called Connecticut Avenue Securities (CAS). Following the release of historical credit performance data in 2012, each Enterprise has issued either STACR or CAS notes that transfer a portion of the credit risk from large reference pools of single-family mortgages to private investors. These reference pools are comprised of loans that the Enterprises had previously securitized to sell the interest rate risk of the loans to private investors. The STACR and CAS transactions take the next step of transferring a portion of the credit risk for these loans to investors as well. Each subsequent credit risk transfer transaction is intended to provide credit protection to the issuing Enterprise on the mortgages in the relevant reference pool. (14)

The Progress Report provides more detail for those who are interested. For the rest of us, we may just want to think through the policy implications. How much credit risk can Fannie and Freddie offload? Is it sufficient to make a real dent in the overall risk that the two companies pose to taxpayers? It would be helpful if the FHFA answered those questions in future reports.

March 24, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments