August 26, 2014

Regulating Fannie and Freddie With The Deal

By David Reiss

Steven Davidoff Solomon and David T. Zaring have posted After the Deal: Fannie, Freddie and the Financial Crisis Aftermath to SSRN. The abstract reads,

The dramatic events of the financial crisis led the government to respond with a new form of regulation. Regulation by deal bent the rule of law to rescue financial institutions through transactions and forced investments; it may have helped to save the economy, but it failed to observe a laundry list of basic principles of corporate and administrative law. We examine the aftermath of this kind of regulation through the lens of the current litigation between shareholders and the government over the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We conclude that while regulation by deal has a place in the government’s financial crisis toolkit, there must come a time when the law again takes firm hold. The shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who have sought damages from the government because its decision to eliminate dividends paid by the institutions, should be entitled to review of their claims for entire fairness under the Administrative Procedure Act – a solution that blends corporate law and administrative law. Our approach will discipline the government’s use of regulation by deal in future economic crises, and provide some ground rules for its exercise at the end of this one – without providing activist investors, whom we contend are becoming increasingly important players in regulation, with an unwarranted windfall.

Reading the briefs in the various GSE lawsuits, one feels lost in the details of the legal arguments and one thinks that the judges hearing these matters might feel the same way.  This article is an attempt to see the big picture, encompassing the administrative, corporate and takings law aspects of the dispute. However the judges decide these cases, one would assume that they will need to do something similar to come up with a result that they find just.

I also found plenty to argue with in this article.  For instance, it characterizes the Federal Housing Finance Administration as the lapdog of Treasury. (26) But there is a lot of evidence that the FHFA charted its own course away from the Executive Branch on many occasions, for instance when it rejected calls by various government officials for principal reductions for homeowners with Fannie and Freddie mortgages. Notwithstanding these disagreements, I think the article makes a real contribution in its attempt to make sense of an extraordinarily muddled situation.

August 26, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

August 25, 2014

Location Affordability

By David Reiss

Following up on an earlier post on NYC’s (Affordable) Housing Crisis, I turn to the Citizen Budget Commission’s report on Housing Affordability Versus Location Affordability. The report opens,

How much more would you pay for an apartment just a short walk from your job than for an equivalent apartment that required an hour-long commute by car to work?

This question highlights two important points about the links between housing costs and transportation costs. First, transportation costs typically are a major component of household budgets, usually second only to housing. Second, a tradeoff between housing costs and transportation costs often exists, and taking both into account can provide a better measure of residential affordability in an area than only considering housing costs.

In recognition of these important points, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has developed a Location Affordability Index (LAI) that measures an area’s affordability based on housing and transportation costs relative to income. This policy brief uses the HUD data to compare costs for a typical household in New York City to those in 21 other cities . . .. (1, footnote omitted)

The report finds that “Low transportation costs and high incomes make New York City relatively affordable: New York City is in third place in location affordability. Housing and transportation costs for the typical household are 32 percent of income in New York City, with lower ratios only in Washington, D.C. (29 percent) and San Francisco (31 percent). This is well within HUD’s 45 percent affordability threshold for combined costs as a percent of income.” (1)

This report makes a very important point about the cost of living in different cities. It should also reframe some of the national discussion about affordable housing policy. It would be great if there were a way to account for length of commute in the Location Affordability Index to make a better apples to apples comparison among cities when it comes to the housing choices that are available to households.

August 25, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

August 22, 2014

Reiss on $17 Billion BoA Settlement

By David Reiss

Law360 quoted me in BofA Deal Shows Pragmatism At Work On Both Sides (behind a paywall). It reads in part,

Bank of America Corp.’s $16.65 billion global settlement over its alleged faulty lending practices in the run-up to the financial crisis may have made bigger waves than recent payouts by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc., but attorneys say the deal still represents the best possible outcome for the bank and for federal prosecutors, who can now put their resources elsewhere.

The settlement, inked with the U.S. Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Federal Housing Administration and the states of California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland and New York, released most of the significant claims related to subprime mortgage practices at Countrywide Financial Corp. and investment bank Merrill Lynch, both of which Bank of America picked up during the crisis.

Although the hefty price tag, which includes $7 billion in consumer relief payments and a record $5 billion in civil penalties, is nothing to balk at, the settlement will help Bank of America avoid a series of piecemeal deals that could stretch out over a much longer period without the prospect of closure, according to Ben Diehl of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.

“They want to start being looked at and considered by the market, their customers and regulators based on what they are doing today, in 2014, and not have everything continue to be looked at through the perspective of alleged accountability for conduct related to the financial crisis,” said Diehl, who formerly oversaw civil prosecutions brought by the California attorney general’s mortgage fraud strike force.

And the bank isn’t the only one looking for closure, according to Diehl.

“It’s in a regulator’s interest as well to be able to look at what is currently being offered to consumers and have a dialogue with companies about that, as opposed to talking about practices that allegedly happened six or more years prior,” he said.

The government also saw great value in getting a big dollar number out to a public that has expressed frustration over a perceived lack of accountability of financial institutions for their role in the financial crisis.

“The executive branch get a big news story, particularly with the eye-poppingly large settlements that have been agreed to recently,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, who added that the federal government also has an interest in global settlements that keep the markets running more predictably.

August 22, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

August 21, 2014

NYC’s (Affordable) Housing Crisis

By David Reiss

The Citizen’s Budget Commission is releasing a series of Policy Briefs on affordable housing in New York City. They raise interesting questions. The first policy brief, The Affordable Housing Crisis: How Bad Is It in New York City, compares the affordable housing situation in 22 large American cities and finds that NYC is not the worst, notwithstanding how many New Yorker’s feel about it. Some of the particular findings included,

  • New York City relies more heavily on rental, as opposed to owned, housing than all other large cities; more than two of every three occupied housing units are rental.
  • The increase in housing supply since 2000 was slower in New York City than in every other large city with population growth.
  • New York City does not have the highest average rents. New York City median rent ranks sixth most expensive among the 22 cities, slightly worse than 2000, when it ranked seventh.
  • New York City is not the most unaffordable: New York City ranks ninth worst in rental affordability, defined as the percent of households spending more than 30 percent of income on gross rent. This is slightly better than its eighth worst ranking in 2000, although the share of renters with burdensome rent increased from 41 percent to 51 percent.(1)

For me, the real story is the second bullet point.  New York City had the fourth slowest growth in the number of housing units out of the 22 cities, notwithstanding the fact that it has always had a limited supply and compounded by the fact that its population has been growing significantly for quite some time. It is depressing to learn that “the number of housing units in New York City increased” only 5.8 percent between 2000 and 2012. (2) This leaves New York City with a vacancy rate of 3.6 percent in 2012, which means that we are a long way off from making a serious dent in the affordability problem. The de Blasio administration has made affordable housing a centerpiece of its agenda. This report reminds us that part of the solution to the affordable housing puzzle is just building more housing overall. We have lots of pent up demand, we just don’t have the supply. That is one reason the rent is too damn high!

August 21, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

August 20, 2014

Protecting Homeowners During Mortgage Servicing Transfers

By David Reiss

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a Compliance Bulletin and Policy Guidance on Mortgage Servicing Transfers (Bulletin 2014-01). Mortgage Serving Transfers have been receiving a lot of attention (also here) recently from regulators as the servicing industry is going through many changes.

The CFPB is right to focus on the impact of the transfer of mortgage servicing rights on homeowners. Many complaints made directly to regulators and seen in foreclosure cases relate to the Kafkaesque treatment that homeowners receive as their servicer point-of-contact changes from interaction to interaction.

The Bulletin indicates that servicers will have to do a fair amount of planning to ensure that consumers are not harmed by the transfer of servicing rights. In particular, the CFPB will be watching to see that servicers are (WARNING:  Boring and Technical Language Alert!):

  • Ensuring that contracts require the transferor to provide all necessary documents and information at loan boarding.
  • Developing tailored transfer instructions for each deal and conducting meetings to
    discuss and clarify key issues with counterparties in a timely manner; for large transfers, this could be months in advance of the transfer. Key issues may include descriptions of proprietary modifications, detailed descriptions of data fields, known issues with document indexing, and specific regulatory or settlement requirements applicable to some or all of the transferred loans.
  • Using specifically tailored testing protocols to evaluate the compatibility of the
    transferred data with the transferee servicer’s systems and data mapping protocols.
  • Engaging in quality control work after the transfer of preliminary data to validate that the data on the transferee’s system matches the data submitted by the transferor.
  • Recognizing when the transfer cannot be implemented successfully in a single batch and implementing alternative protocols, such as splitting the transfer into several smaller transactions, to ensure that the transferee can comply with its servicing obligations for every loan transferred. (3)

As a bonus, the Bulletin provides an overview of statutes and regulations that govern the transfer of mortgage servicing.

August 20, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

August 19, 2014

Should The Mortgage Follow The Note?

By David Reiss

The financial crisis and the foreclosure crisis have pushed many scholars to take a fresh look at all sorts of aspects of the housing finance system. John Patrick Hunt has added to this growing body of literature with a posting to SSRN, Should The Mortgage Follow The Note?. It is an interesting and important article, taking a a fresh look at the legal platitude, “the mortgage follows the note” and asking — should it?!? The abstract reads,

The law of mortgage assignment has taken center stage amidst foreclosure crisis, robosigning scandal, and controversy over the Mortgage Electronic Registration System. Yet a concept crucially important to mortgage assignment law, the idea that “the mortgage follows the note,” apparently has never been subjected to a critical analysis in a law review.

This Article makes two claims about that proposition, one positive and one normative. The positive claim is that it has been much less clear than typically assumed that the mortgage follows the note, in the sense that note transfer formalities trump mortgage transfer formalities. “The mortgage follows the note” is often described as a well-established principle of law, when in fact considerable doubt has attended the proposition at least since the middle of the last century.

The normative claim is that it is not clear that the mortgage should follow the note. The Article draws on the theoretical literature of filing and recording to show that there is a case that mortgage assignments should be subject to a filing rule and that “the mortgage follows the note,” to the extent it implies that transferee interests should be protected without filing, should be abandoned.

Whether mortgage recording should in fact be abandoned in favor of the principle “the mortgage follows the note” turns on the resolution of a number of empirical questions. This Article identifies key empirical questions that emerge from its application of principles from the theoretical literature on filing and recording to the specific case of mortgages.

The article does not answer the core question that it asks, but it certainly demonstrates that it is worth answering.

August 19, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

August 18, 2014

Housing Finance at A Glance

By David Reiss

The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center really does give a a nice overview of the American housing finance system in its monthly chartbook, Housing Finance at A Glance. I list below a few of the charts that I found particularly informative, but I recommend that you take a look at the whole chartbook if you want to get a good sense of what it has to offer:

  • First Lien Origination Volume and Share (reflecting market share of Bank portfolio; PLS securitization; FHA/VA securitization; an GSE securitization)
  • Mortgage Origination Product Type (by Fixed-rate 30-year mortgage; Fixed-rate 15-year mortgage; Adjustable-rate mortgage; Other)
  • Securitization Volume and Composition (by Agency and Non-Agency Share of Residential MBS Issuance)
  • National Housing Affordability Over Time
  • Mortgage Insurance Activity (by VA, FHA, Total private primary MI)

As with the blind men and the elephant, It is hard for individuals to get their  hands around the entirety of the housing finance system. This chartbook makes you feel like you got a glimpse of it though, at least a fleeting one.

August 18, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments