April 1, 2015

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

April 1, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 31, 2015

The Rescue of Fannie and Freddie

By David Reiss

Federal Reserve researchers, W. Scott Frame, Andreas Fuster, Joseph Tracy and James Vickery, have posted a staff report, The Rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The abstract reads,

We describe and evaluate the measures taken by the U.S. government to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008. We begin by outlining the business model of these two firms and their role in the U.S. housing finance system. Our focus then turns to the sources of financial distress that the firms experienced and the events that ultimately led the government to take action in an effort to stabilize housing and financial markets. We describe the various resolution options available to policymakers at the time and evaluate the success of the choice of conservatorship, and other actions taken, in terms of five objectives that we argue an optimal intervention would have fulfilled. We conclude that the decision to take the firms into conservatorship and invest public funds achieved its short-run goals of stabilizing mortgage markets and promoting financial stability during a period of extreme stress. However, conservatorship led to tensions between maximizing the firms’ value and achieving broader macroeconomic objectives, and, most importantly, it has so far failed to produce reform of the U.S. housing finance system.

 This staff report provides a nice overview of the two companies since the financial crisis. I was particularly interested by a couple of sections. First, I found the discussion of receivership versus conservatorship helpful. Second, I liked how it outlined the five objectives for an optimal intervention:

(i) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be enabled to continue their core securitization and guarantee functions as going concerns, thereby maintaining conforming mortgage credit supply.

(ii) The two firms would continue to honor their agency debt and mortgage-backed securities obligations, given the amount and widely held nature of these securities, especially in leveraged financial institutions, and the potential for financial instability in case of default on these obligations.

(iii) The value of the common and preferred equity in the two firms would be extinguished, reflecting their insolvent financial position.

(iv) The two firms would be managed in a way that would provide flexibility to take into account macroeconomic objectives, rather than just maximizing the private value of their assets.

(v) The structure of the rescue would prompt long-term reform and set in motion the transition to a better system within a reasonable period of time. (14-15)

You’ll have to read the paper to see how they evaluate the five objectives in greater detail.

March 31, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory and Legislative Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

  • On March 26th the The House Financial Services Committee approved 11 bipartisan bills designed to help strengthen the economy and consumer choice by “relieving community banks and credit unions from some of the harmful regulatory burden imposed by Washington,” these include:

March 31, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

March 30, 2015

Affordable Housing for which Low-Income Households?

By David Reiss

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s latest issue of Housing Spotlight provides its annual examination of “the availability of rental housing affordable to” extremely low income “and low income renter households . . ..” (1) It finds that

the gap between the number of ELI households and the number of rental homes that are both affordable and available to them has grown dramatically since the foreclosure crisis and recession. Despite this growing need, most new rental units being built are only affordable to households with incomes above 50% of AMI. At the same time, the existing stock of federally subsidized housing is shrinking through demolition and contract expirations, and waiting lists for housing assistance remain years long in many communities. Federal housing assistance is so limited that just one out of every four eligible households receives it. (1, emphasis in the original)
The article, “Affordable Housing is Nowhere to be Found for Millions,” describes the role of the National Housing Trust Fund, signed into law by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, but only recently funded by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:
The NHTF is structured as a block grant to states, and at least 90% of all funding will be used to produce, preserve, rehabilitate and operate rental housing. Further, 75% of rental housing funding must benefit ELI. The funding of the NHTF will make a difference in the lives of many ELI renters by supporting the development and preservation of housing affordable to this income group. However, additional funding to the NHTF will be necessary to assure support to all income eligible households in need of housing. (1, footnote omitted)
The NLIHC’s key findings from this work include,
  • The number of ELI renter households rose from 9.6 million in 2009 to 10.3 million in 2013 and they made up 24% of all renter households in 2013.
  • There was a shortage of 7.1 million affordable rental units available to ELI renter households in 2013. Another way to express this gap is that there were just 31 affordable and available units per 100 ELI renter households. The data show no change from the analysis a year ago.
  • For the 4.1 million renter households DLI renter households in 2013, there was a shortage of 3.4 million affordable rental units available to them. There were just 17 affordable and available units per 100 DLI renter households.
  • Seventy-five percent of ELI renter households spent more than half of their income on rent and utilities; 90% of DLI renter households spent more than half of their income for rent and utilities.
  • In every state, at least 60% of ELI renters paid more than half of their income on rent and utilities. (1)

Given that housing affordability remained a problem during both boom times and bust and given that we should not expect another dramatic expansion of federal subsidies for rental housing, now might be a good time to ask what we can reasonably expect from the Housing Trust Fund. Should it be spread wide and thin, helping many a bit, or narrow and deep, helping a few a lot? No right answers here.

March 30, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

March 30, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

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