March 24, 2015

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Round Up

By Serenna McCloud

  • Representative Delany (D-MD) and Others Recently Re-Intoroduced The Partnership to Strengthen Homeownership Act, originally introduced in July 2014, The Act Promises to Reform Housing Finance, Strengthen Affordable Housing and Reduce Taxpayer Risk
  • Senator Charles Schumer and Others recently Sent a Letter Urging Congress to Allocate at Least $35 Million to Fund the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 4 Capacity Building and Affordable Housing Program
  • The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, Recently Introduced Into the Senate, Would Invite Private Contractors to Upgrade HUDs Energy Efficiency, With Compensation Tied to Acually Realized Energy Savings

March 24, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 23, 2015

Another Fannie/Freddie Bailout?

By David Reiss

The Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of the Inspector General has issued a White Paper Report, The Continued Profitability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Is Not Assured. The Executive Summary opens,

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, the Enterprises) returned to profitability in 2012 after successive years of losses. Their improved financial performance is encouraging; however, their continued profitability is not assured. The mortgage industry is complex, cyclical, and sensitive to changes in economic conditions, mortgage rates, house prices, and other factors. The Enterprises have acknowledged in their public disclosures that adverse market and other changes could lead to additional losses and that their financial results are subject to significant variability from period to period.

Notwithstanding the Enterprises’ recent positive financial results, they face many challenges. For example:

  The Enterprises must reduce the size of their retained investment portfolios over the next few years pursuant to the terms of agreements with the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) and additional limits from FHFA. Declines in the size of these portfolios will reduce portfolio earnings over the long term. These portfolios have been the Enterprises’ largest source of earnings in the past.

  Core earnings from the Enterprises’ business segments—single-family guarantee, multifamily, and investments—comprised only 40% of net income in 2013. Sixty percent of the Enterprises’ net income came from non-recurring tax-related items and large settlements of legal actions and business disputes, which are not sustainable sources of revenue. Core earnings comprised 55% of net income in 2014.

  The Enterprises are unable to accumulate a financial cushion to absorb future losses. Pursuant to the terms of agreements with Treasury, the Enterprises are required to pay Treasury each quarter a dividend equal to the excess of their net worth over an applicable capital reserve amount. The applicable capital reserve amount decreases to zero by January 1, 2018.

  Stress test results released by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) in April 2014 indicate that the Enterprises, under the worst scenario—a scenario generally akin to the recent financial crisis— would require additional Treasury draws of either $84.4 billion or $190 billion, depending on the treatment of deferred tax assets, through the end of the stress test period, which is the fourth quarter of 2015.

  Absent Congressional action, or a change in FHFA’s current strategy, the conservatorships will go on indefinitely. The Enterprises’ future status is beyond their control. At present, it appears that Congressional action will be needed to define what role, if any, the Enterprises play in the housing finance system. (1-2)

While I am overall sympathetic to the underlying message of this white paper — Reform Fannie and Freddie Now! — I think it is somewhat misleading. Fannie and Freddie have been sending billions of dollars to the Treasury that exceed the amount of support that they received during the financial crisis. Before we could talk about a second taxpayer bailout, I think we would have to credit them with those excess payments.

That being said, the Obama Administration and Congress have left Fannie and Freddie to linger for far too long in conservatorship limbo. I have no doubt that this state of affairs will contribute to some kind of crisis for the two companies, so we should support some kind of exit strategy that gets implemented sooner rather than later. Inaction is the greatest threat to Fannie and Freddie, and to the housing finance system itself.

March 23, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

March 23, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 20, 2015

Foreign Funding for Real Estate Projects

By David Reiss

Jeanne Calderon and Gary Friedland have posted A Roadmap to the Use of EB-5 Capital: An Alternative Financing Tool for Commercial Real Estate Projects. The paper provides a great overview of a relatively new source of funding for real estate deals. The introduction opens,

From an immigrant’s perspective, the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program (“EB-5” or the “Program”) represents merely one of several paths to obtain a visa.  The EB-5 visa is based on the immigrant’s investment of capital in a business that creates new jobs. However, from a real estate developer’s perspective, the immigrant’s investment to qualify for the visa creates an alternative capital source for the developer’s project (“EB-5 capital” or “EB-5 financing”).

Despite the Program’s enactment by Congress in 1990, for many years EB-5 was not a common path followed by immigrants to seek a visa. However, when the traditional capital markets evaporated during the Great Recession, developers’ demand for alternate capital sources rejuvenated the Program. Since 2008, the number of EB-5 visas sought, and hence the use of EB-5 capital, has skyrocketed. EB-5 capital has become a capital source providing extraordinary flexibility and attractive terms, especially to finance commercial real estate projects. Consequently, many developers routinely consider EB-5 capital as a potential source to fill a major space in the capital stack. As the financing tool becomes more widely known and understood, this source of capital should become even more popular.

The EB-5 investor’s motivation for making the investment accounts for the relative flexibility and favorable terms afforded by EB-5 capital compared to conventional capital sources. Unlike that of the conventional capital providers (such as banks, private equity funds, REITs, life insurance companies and pension funds), the EB-5 investor’s reason for making the investment is to secure a visa. Thus, his primary objective at the time of making the investment is to satisfy the EB-5 visa requirements. Consequently, so long as the investor believes that the investment will qualify for the visa and result in the safe return of his capital, he is willing to accept a below market, if not minimal, return on the investment. Furthermore, the investor might not require some of the other protections that more sophisticated, conventional real estate investors typically seek.

*     *     *

Simply stated, the Program requires that the immigrant make a capital investment of $500,000 or $1,000,000 (depending on whether the project is located in a “Targeted Employment Area”) in a business located within the United States. The business must directly create 10 new, full-time jobs per investor. Thus, the number of jobs that a project will create is a key determinant of the amount of the potential EB-5 capital raise. (3-4)

This once exotic funding technique is now becoming quite mainstream. Of interest to some readers of this blog, the paper describes at various points how EB-5 funds have been used in residential projects. The paper is a useful introduction for those who want to know more about this program.

March 20, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports

By Serenna McCloud

March 20, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 19, 2015

Tax Expenditure Wars: Wealthy Households v. Poor

By David Reiss

Henry Rose has posted How Federal Tax Expenditures That Support Housing Contribute to Economic Inequality to SSRN. This short article examines “how federal income tax laws benefit more affluent owner households but provide no benefits to economically-strapped renter households.” (1) Housing policy analysts (myself included) constantly bemoan the regressive nature of federal tax policy as it relates to housing, but it is always worth looking at the topic with updated numbers. And this article contains some tables with some interesting numbers.

One table provides an overview of the estimated tax savings (in billions) in FY 2014 for five federal tax expenditures for owners of housing that they occupy:

Mortgage Interest Deduction  (MID)                                                 $66.91

Property Tax Deduction (PTD)                                                        $31.59

Capital Gains Exclusion on Sales                                                   $35.54

Net Imputed Rental Income Exclusion                                            $75.24

Discharge of Mortgage Indebtedness Exclusion                            $3.1

Total                                                                                                 $212.38

The next table provides an estimated distribution of two of these tax expenditures (FY 2014, savings in millions):

Tax-Filer AGI                PTD Tax Savings         MID Tax Savings                

Below $50,000              $693                              $1,443

$50,000-75,000             $2,190                           $4,330

$75,000-100,000           $3,478                           $6,581

$100,000-200,000         $13,648                         $27,421

$200,000+                     $11,798                         $29,340

Total                              $31,806                         $69,115                               

The article concludes by noting that despite

the great disparity in economic positions between owners and renters, federal tax expenditures lavish tax savings on primarily affluent owners and provide none for renters. The federal tax expenditures for owners are so generous that interest can be deducted on mortgage balances up to $1,000,000 and can also be taken on second homes, even yachts, as well as primary residences. It is difficult to conceive of a federal public policy that more directly promotes economic inequality than the federal tax expenditures that support owners of housing but are not available to renters. (9-10, footnote omitted)

I don’t expect this disparity to be addressed any time in the near future, given the current political environment, but it is certainly one that should stay at the top of any list of reforms for those concerned with promoting equitable federal housing policies.

March 19, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursdays Advocacy & Think Tank Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

March 19, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments