October 29, 2014
I have submitted a Comment on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Proposed Rulemaking to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Basically, I argue
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act proposed rulemaking (proposed Aug. 29, 2014) is a reasonable one. It increases the amount of information that is to be collected about important consumer products, such as reverse mortgages. It also increases the amount of important information it collects about all mortgages. At the same time, it releases lenders from having to determine borrowers’ intentions about how they will use their loan proceeds, something that can be hard to do and to document well. Finally, while the proposed rule raises some privacy concerns, the CFPB can address them.
October 28, 2014
I have posted a short Response, Who Should Be Providing Mortgage Credit to American Households?, to SSRN (as well as to BePress). The abstract reads,
Who should be providing mortgage credit to American households? Given that the residential mortgage market is a ten-trillion-dollar one, the answer we come up with had better be right, or we may suffer another brutal financial crisis sooner than we would like. Indeed, the stakes are as high as they were in the Great Depression when the foundation of our current system was first laid down. Unfortunately, the housing finance experts of the 1930s seemed to have a greater clarity of purpose when designing their housing finance system. Part of the problem today is that debates over the housing finance system have been muddled by broader ideological battles and entrenched special interests, as well as by plain old inertia and the fear of change. It is worth taking a step back to evaluate the full range of options available to us, as the course we decide upon will shape the housing market for generations to come. This is a Response to Brent Horton, For the Protection of Investors and the Public: Why Fannie Mae’s Mortgage-Backed Securities Should Be Subject to the Disclosure Requirements of the Securities Act of 1933, 89 Tulane L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2014-2015).
October 27, 2014
As the FHFA sets the housing goals for 2015-2017, it should focus on maximizing the creation and preservation of affordable housing. Less efficient proposed subgoals should be rejected unless the FHFA has explicitly identified a compelling rationale to adopt them. The FHFA has not identified one in the case of the proposed small multifamily subgoal. Thus, it should be withdrawn.
October 23, 2014
Todd Zywicki has posted The Behavioral Law and Economics of Fixed-Rate Mortgages (and Other Just-So Stories) to SSRN. The article contains
a spoof, in order to make a larger point.
The abstract reads,
A major cause of the recent financial crisis was the traditional American mortgage, which is distinctive for the following features: it is a thirty-year, self-amortizing loan with an unlimited right to prepay. The United States is unique in the world for standardizing on a mortgage product with these features. Yet not only have a majority of the foreclosures that occurred during the financial crisis been fixed-rate mortgages, the fixed-interest-rate characteristics have undermined efforts by the Federal Reserve and government to assist recovery of the housing market. Moreover, the long fixed-rate term and ability to refinance are highly expensive and suboptimal features for many consumers. Nevertheless, many consumers persist in purchasing this mortgage. Drawing on the methodology of behavioral law and economics, this article provides rationalizations for how behavioral law and economics can explain the persistence of a product that is so harmful to many consumers and to the economy at large. The article then draws conclusions about what this analysis means for the behavioral law and economics research program generally and for the use of behavioral law and economics in government policymaking.
I have a lot to say about this article but I don’t want to ruin it for you! Suffice it to say, the article is a provocative critique of behavioral law and economics. Those of us who hope to see a healthy mortgage market develop would do well to take this critique seriously — even if you end up rejecting its broader implications.
October 22, 2014
Collinson and Ganong have posted The Incidence of Housing Voucher Generosity to SSRN. The abstract of this important paper is a little technical for non-economists. It reads:
What is the incidence of housing vouchers? Housing voucher recipients in the US typically pay their landlord a fixed amount based on their income and the government pays the rest of the rent, up to a rent ceiling. We consider a policy that raises the generosity of the rent ceiling everywhere, which is equivalent to an income effect, and a policy which links generosity to local unit quality, which is equivalent to a substitution effect.
Using data on the universe of housing vouchers and quasi-experimental variation from HUD policy changes, we analyze the incidence of these policies. Raising the generosity of the rent ceiling everywhere appears to primarily benefit landlords, who receive higher rents with very little evidence of medium-run quality improvements. Setting ZIP code-level rent ceilings causes rent increases in expensive neighborhoods and decreases in low-cost neighborhoods, with little change in aggregate rents. The ZIP code policy improves neighborhood quality as much as other, far more costly, voucher interventions.
The eye-catching part is that raising “the generosity of the rent ceiling everywhere appears to primarily benefit landlords, who receive higher rents with very little evidence of medium-run quality improvements.” The paper itself fleshes this out more: “a $1 increase in the rent ceiling raises rents by 41 cents; consistent with this policy change acting like an income effect, we find very small quality increases of around 5 cents, meaning that as much as 89% of the increase in government expenditure accrues to landlords.” (20-21)
Given the inelasticity of the supply in many housing markets, this is not such a surprising result. That is, if demand increases because of an increase in income but supply does not, the producer (landlords) can capture more of that income just by raising prices. This finding should give policymakers pause as they design and implement voucher programs. The question that drives them.should be — how can they maximize the portion of the subsidy that goes to the voucher recipient?
October 21, 2014
Law360 quoted me in With Lessons Learned, FHFA Lets Mortgage Giants Ease Credit (behind a paywall). It reads in part,
The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s plan to boost mortgage lending by allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase loans with 3 percent down payments may stir housing bubble memories, but experts say better underwriting standards and other protections should prevent the worst subprime lending practices from returning.
FHFA Director Mel Watt on Monday said that his agency would lower the down payment requirement for borrowers to receive the government-sponsored enterprises’ support in a bid to get more first-time and lower-income borrowers access to mortgage credit and into their own homes.
However, unlike the experience of the housing bubble years — where subprime lenders engaged in shoddy and in some cases fraudulent underwriting practices and borrowers took on more home than they could afford — the lower down payment requirements would be accompanied by tighter underwriting and risk-sharing standards, Watt said.
“Through these revised guidelines, we believe that the enterprises will be able to responsibly serve a targeted segment of creditworthy borrowers with lower down payment mortgages by taking into account ‘compensating factors,’” Watt said at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, according to prepared remarks.
* * *
The realities of the modern mortgage market, and the new rules that are overseeing it, should prevent the lower down payment requirements from leading to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and by extension taxpayers taking on undue risk, Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss said.
Tighter underwriting requirements such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s qualified mortgage standard and ability to repay rules have made it less likely that people are taking on loans that they cannot afford, he said.
Prior to the crisis, many subprime mortgages had the toxic mix of low credit scores, low down payments and low documentation of the ability to repay, Reiss said.
“If you don’t have too many of those characteristics, there is evidence that loans are sustainable” even with a lower down payment, he said.
The FHFA is also pushing for private actors to take on more mortgage credit risk as a way to shrink Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There is a very good chance that private mortgage insurers could step in to take on the additional risks to the system from lower down payments, rather than taxpayers, Platt said.
“You’ll need a mortgage insurer to agree to those lower down payment requirements because they’re going to have to bear the risk of that loss,” he said.
The 97 percent loan-to-value ratio that the FHFA will allow for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backing is not significantly higher than the 95 percent that is currently in place, Platt said.
Having the additional risk fall to insurers could mean that the system can handle that additional risk, particularly with the FHFA looking to increase capital requirements for mortgage insurers, Reiss said.
“It could be that the whole system is capitalized enough to take this risk,” he said.