REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 16, 2017

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. Treasury Department to assess the U.S. financial market. Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury Secretary, found a need for specific immediate actions which will provide “much-needed relief.” The detailed report also calls for a reversion to the use of “private mortgage investor capital in secondary markets.” Mnuchin and his team met with members of the finance and banking community which allowed the U.S. agency to produce a 150 page report explaining the problems and potential solutions of the U.S. finance system.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee announced at least a .25% hike in the mortgage rates. This decision was nearly unanimous; the president of the committee, Neel Kashkari was the outlier. This hike comes to no surprise to many mortgage lenders and economists.
  • The United States’ Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its Coordinated Entry Guidebook. HUD’s guidebook seeks to ensure that families and individuals that are misplaced from their homes receive the adequate help they need. To aid in this process, the guide focuses on four key principals “access, assessment, prioritization, and referral.”

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June 16, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

June 15, 2017

Time Is Ripe For GSE Reform

By David Reiss

photo by Valerie Everett

Banker and Tradesman quoted me in Time Is Ripe For GSE Reform (behind a paywall). It opens,

Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Melvin L. Watt told the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs last month that “Congress urgently needs to act on housing finance reform” and bring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of conservatorship after almost nine years.

Conservatorship is temporary by its very nature. There is universal agreement that it can’t go on forever, but there is widespread disagreement about what the government-sponsored entities (GSEs) should look like after coming out of conservatorship – and how to get there.

“Only a legislative solution can provide political legitimacy and long term market certainty for the housing finance system,” according to a recent Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) white paper on GSE reform. MBA President and CEO Dave Stevens said now is the time for Congress to tackle the changes that will maintain liquidity, but protect taxpayers and homebuyers.

“The last recession destroyed many communities throughout the country,” he said. “The GSEs played a large role in that. They fueled a lot of the capital that allowed all varieties of lenders to make risky loans and then received the single-largest bailout in the history of this nation. They are not innocent.”

Connecticut Mortgage Bankers Association President Kevin Moran said his organization supports the positions of the MBA.

“There’s going to be change no matter what,” Stevens said. “We’re stuck with this problem. It’s technical and complicated and needs to be done. They can’t stay in conservatorship forever.”

Taxpayers Need Protection

Professor David Reiss at Brooklyn Law School said that future delays are not out of the question.

“Change is coming, but the Treasury and FHFA can amend the PSPA [agreement] again,” Reiss said. “It’s been amended three times already. There’s a little bit of political theatre going on here. It’s incredibly important for the economy. You really hope that the broad middle of the government can come to a compromise. If there isn’t the political will to move forward, they can simply kick the can down the road.”

Reiss said the fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are both going to run out of money by January 2018 is a factor in why reform is needed soon, but the GSEs aren’t in danger of imminent collapse.

“They are literally going to run out of money,” Reiss said. “But keep in mind they will continue to have a $2.5 billion line of credit. It’s partially political. They’re trying to get the public conscious of this. I don’t think anyone in the broad middle of the political establishment thinks it’s good that they’ve been in limbo for nine years.”
The MBA’s proposal to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aims to ensure that crashes like the one in 2007-2008 never happen again, in part by raising the minimum capital balance GSEs have to maintain to a level at least as high as banks and other lenders.

“They have a capital standard that is absurd,” Stevens said. “Pre-conservatorship they had to have less than 0.5 percent capital. Banks are required to maintain 4 percent of their loan value against mortgages. That’s a regulated standard. Fannie and Freddie are not as diversified as banks are. Our view is to make sure they are sustainable; they should at least a 4 to 5 percent buffer to protect them against failure.”

To put that into context, a 3.5 percent buffer would have been just large enough for the GSEs to weather the last housing crash without the need for a taxpayer-funded bailout. Stevens said the MBA would go even further.

“They should also pay a fee for every loan that goes into an insurance fund in the event all else fails,” he said. “In the event of a catastrophic failure, that would be the last barrier before having to rely on taxpayers. Keep in mind: for years, shareholders made billions and when they failed taxpayers took 100 percent of the losses.”

Stevens said the MBA would like to see more competition in the secondary market, and that the current duopoly isn’t much better than a monopoly.

“There should be more competitors,” he said. “If either one [Fannie or Freddie] fails, you almost have to bail them out. Our goal is to have a highly regulated industry to support the American finance system without using the portfolio to make bets on the marketplace.”

A Bipartisan Issue

While some conservatives like Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have called for getting the government out of the mortgage business altogether, Stevens said that would likely mean the end of the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage.

Furthermore, GSEs are required to serve underserved communities. Private companies would be more likely to back the most profitable loans.

“The GSEs play a really important role in counter-cyclical markets,” Stevens said. “When credit conditions shift, private money disappears. We saw that in 2007. It put extraordinary demands on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae. You need a continuous flow of capital. You can put controls in place so it can expand and contract when needed.”

Reiss said getting the government out of the mortgage business would certainly mean some big changes.

“I think there is some evidence that some 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages could still exist,” Reiss said. “It would dramatically change their availability, though. Interest rates would go up somewhere between one-half and 1 percent. Some people might like that because it reflects the actual risk of a residential mortgage, but it would also make housing more expensive.”

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June 15, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • Chicago is faced with many disparities between higher income and lower income residents. A recent study shows an additional disparity regarding the burden of property taxes on lower income residents. The root of the issue stems from the valuation of property. The county accessor’s office has an imperative role in determining whether lower income residents are able to live in their home or forced into foreclosure.
  • Denver is not a city where individuals making two times the amount of the federal minimum wage may find affordable housing. A recent reporter followed the life of a tenant who began to loose her rental after two short months in the home. While she believes her case is unique, the city of Denver reported 8,419 eviction cases in 2016. Denver responded by using an “arm-in-arm” strategy to reduce the possibility of some 16,000 individuals who may be without a home.
  • Stearns Lending now offers loans for million dollar homes with less than 10% down. As a result, qualifying first time homebuyers will be able to borrow an amount up to one million dollars. Additionally, if a homebuyer is experienced, he or she may qualify for a loan up to 1.5 million dollars.

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June 15, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

June 14, 2017

High Rents and Land Use Regulation

By David Reiss

photo by cincy Project

The Federal Reserve’s Devin Bunten has posted Is the Rent Too High? Aggregate Implications of Local Land-Use Regulation. It is a technical paper about an important subject. It has implications for those who are concerned about the lack of affordable housing in high-growth areas. The abstract reads,

Highly productive U.S. cities are characterized by high housing prices, low housing stock growth, and restrictive land-use regulations (e.g., San Francisco). While new residents would benefit from housing stock growth in cities with highly productive firms, existing residents justify strict local land-use regulations on the grounds of congestion and other costs of further development. This paper assesses the welfare implications of these local regulations for income, congestion, and urban sprawl within a general-equilibrium model with endogenous regulation. In the model, households choose from locations that vary exogenously by productivity and endogenously according to local externalities of congestion and sharing. Existing residents address these externalities by voting for regulations that limit local housing density. In equilibrium, these regulations bind and house prices compensate for differences across locations. Relative to the planner’s optimum, the decentralized model generates spatial misallocation whereby high-productivity locations are settled at too-low densities. The model admits a straightforward calibration based on observed population density, expenditure shares on consumption and local services, and local incomes. Welfare and output would be 1.4% and 2.1% higher, respectively, under the planner’s allocation. Abolishing zoning regulations entirely would increase GDP by 6%, but lower welfare by 5.9% because of greater congestion.

The important sentence from the abstract is that “Welfare and output would be 1.4% and 2.1% higher, respectively, under the planner’s allocation.” Those are significant effects when we are talking about  real people and real places. The introduction provides a bit more context for the study:

Neighborhoods in productive, high-rent regions have very strict controls on housing development and very limited new housing construction. Home to Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay Area is the most productive and most expensive metropolitan region in the country, and yet new housing construction has been very slow, especially in contrast to less-productive large cities like Houston, Texas. The evidence suggests that this slow-growth environment results from locally determined regulatory constraints. Existing residents justify these constraints by appealing to the costs of new development, including increased vehicle traffic and other types of congestion, and claim that they see few, if any, of the benefits from new development. However, the effects of local regulation extend beyond the local regulating authorities: regions with highly regulated municipalities experience less-elastic housing supply. (2, footnotes omitted)

The bottom line, as far as I am concerned, is that localities that are attempting to deal with their affordable housing problems have to directly address how they go about their zoning. If the zoning does not support housing construction, then no amount of affordable housing incentives will address the demand for housing in high growth places like NYC and San Francisco.

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June 14, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

June 13, 2017

How Are First-Time Homebuyers Doing?

By David Reiss

photo by designmilk

Genworth Mortgage Insurance Corporation released a a First-Time Home Market Report.  The big news from the report is that first-time homebuyers fifteen percent more single-family homes in 2016 than in 2015.  The 2 million homes purchased in 2016 was the most since 2006, before the financial crisis. This is a positive sign for the housing market and for the homeownership rate which has fallen to long-time lows since the financial crisis. The Executive Summary reads,

First-time homebuyers represent an important segment of the housing market, generating significant revenue to real estate agents, homebuilders, and the mortgage finance industry. In this report, we adopt the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) definition of first-time homebuyers as homebuyers who did not own a home in any of the prior three years  . . . Compared to repeat homebuyers, first-time homebuyers play a more pivotal role in influencing housing inventory and home prices because they represent the shift of housing demand from rental to owner occupancy. Despite this well-recognized dynamic, there has been limited data available on the first-time homebuyer market, starting with market size. In this report, we estimate the size of the first-time homebuyer market going back to 1994 using a combination of government and mortgage industry data—20.1 million actual first-time homebuyers were identified. This data provides a historical perspective on the first-time homebuyer market as well as important recent trends. (2)

The report’s key findings include,

1. Between 1994 and 2016, first-time homebuyers purchased on average 1.8 million single-family homes each year, accounting for over one in three of all single-family homes sold, and 45 percent of the purchase mortgages originated.

2. First-time homebuyers have led the housing recovery, contributing over 60 percent of the sales growth in the housing market over the past five years and 85 percent of the growth in the past two years. The resurgence of the first-time homebuyer market has contributed to very tight housing supplies and accelerating home prices, especially at the “low” end of the housing market.

3. During the Housing Crisis, the number of single-family homes sold to first-time homebuyers saw a peak to trough decline of 900,000 units (43 percent) – reaching a trough of just 1.2 million units in 2011. Over the last 10 years, the housing market has seen 3 million fewer first-time homebuyers in aggregate compared to the historical average.

4. The first-time homebuyer market stagnated during the historic housing expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s, leading to a decline in first-time homebuyer mix. Instead, it was repeat homebuyers, including second-home buyers and investors, who led the surge in housing activity.

5. The expansion of government lending programs and the implementation of the first-time homebuyer tax credit provided temporary support to first-time homebuyers. Between 2008 and 2010, first-time homebuyers represented 35 percent of all single-family home sales, which is close to its historical average. However, the percentage of single-family home sales to first-time homebuyers declined once the tax credit expired, and stayed below 30 percent for these three years.

6. First-time homebuyers have always demonstrated a greater need for low down payment mortgage products. Between 1994 and 2016, 73 percent of first-time homebuyers chose such products compared to 30-50 percent for repeat homebuyers. Mortgage products with a lower down payment will likely have a higher first-time homebuyer mix.

7. Private mortgage insurance and FHA (government-backed mortgage insurance) are the two leading products for first-time homebuyers and have together accounted for close to 1 million first-time homebuyers a year since 1994. They have played a key role in reviving the first-time homebuyer market in the current recovery, accounting for approximately 80 percent of its growth in the past two years.

8. First-time homebuyers purchased 2 million single-family homes in 2016, 15 percent more than 2015 – and the most since 2006. During the first quarter of 2017, there were more first-time homebuyers than any other year since 2005. A total of 424,000 single-family homes were sold to first-time homebuyers, up 11 percent from a year ago, and accounting for 38 percent of all single-family home sales. (3)

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Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took action against Fay Servicing for their lack of protection of homeowners during foreclosing procedures. The CFPB found that Fay Servicing did not provide borrowers with the necessary protection legally mandated. Additionally, the servicing company did not suspend proceedings when homeowners actively participated in programs to save their homes.
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition released a report analyzing federal minimum wages and its affect on affordable rental housing. Roughly 60% of states “have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage”. In order for families to afford to live in “affordable housing,” they must make 2.9 more than the federal mandated minimum wage. Currently, Maryland, California, and Hawaii have the highest distance between income and a two bedroom affordable rental.

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June 13, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments