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The NYS Comptroller issued a report, Housing Affordability in New York State. The report finds that

The percentage of New York State households with housing costs above the affordability threshold, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), rose for both homeowners and renters from 2000 to 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. As of 2012, more than 3 million households in the State paid housing costs that were at or above the affordability threshold of 30 percent of household income. Within that group, more than 1.5 million households paid half or more of their income in housing costs. Statewide, the estimated percentage of rental households with rents above the affordability level increased from 40.5 percent in 2000 to 50.6 percent in 2012. (1, footnote omitted)

The report suggest that “that many New Yorkers are feeling pressure from a combination of stagnant or declining real income and increasing housing costs. A combination of factors including comparatively slow economic growth over time, a rising real estate tax burden, and limited housing supply in many areas of the State contribute to the increasing challenge New Yorkers face in finding affordable housing.” (2)

A pretty consistent theme on this blog is that limits on housing production necessarily limit housing affordability. While this seems obvious to me (perhaps I hang around too many economists?!?), it certainly is not to other people. Many people with whom I discuss affordable housing policy acknowledge that in theory, limits on the supply of housing should effect the price of housing (they all took Econ 101 when they were in college). But they look around New York City, see new high rises going up while housing prices are going up at the same time. They then doubt that increasing the supply of housing will reduce the cost of housing. All I can say is who are you going to believe — your Econ 101 teacher or your own lyin’ eyes?

But of course that is not a compelling argument. So I tell my interlocutors that it is necessary to take into account the fact that NY is seeing a dramatic increase in demand. This demand comes from the increasing resident population as well as the inflow of the ultra rich who want a (fifth?) part-time home in NYC as well as a safe place to park some capital. This high demand masks a problem that NY has faced for decades — too little new housing construction to support the existing residents, let alone all of the new residents.

The de Blasio Administration has acknowledged the need for increased housing construction as part of its program to increase housing affordability in the five NYC counties. The Comptroller’s report acknowledges that a similar dynamic is occurring throughout New York State. Perhaps Governor Cuomo will identify ways in which the State government can take a leading role in encouraging housing construction in all 62 of New York State’s counties.

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The court in deciding White v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Ga., 2013) ultimately denied the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, therein upholding the decision of the lower court.

Plaintiffs alleged that because BANA did not hold the note and it was not the assignee of the security deed it lacked the authority to foreclose. Plaintiffs alleged further that defendants falsely represented that BANA was the plaintiffs’ secured creditor. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages.

On May 10, 2013, the lower court granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint. The lower court found that the plaintiffs executed the security deed with the power of sale in favor of MERS, and that MERS assigned its rights under the security deed to BACHLS; that BACHLS merged into BANA; and that, as a result of the merger, BANA acquired the rights and interests of BACHLS, including the security deed.

The lower court concluded that BANA, as holder of the Note and Security Deed, was entitled to foreclose on the property and that the plaintiffs had not, and could not, state a claim for relief under any legal theory based on BANA’s alleged lack of authority to foreclose on the Property.

On appeal, the plaintiffs reassert their argument that BANA lacked standing to foreclose on the property because it did not also hold the note. Plaintiffs argued that the note was “unauthenticated” and thus the endorsement from First Option to Countrywide is not valid.

After considering the plaintiff’s contentions, this court found that the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration on this basis should be denied.

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The court in deciding Bank of N.Y. Mellon Trust Co. Nat’l Ass’n v. Robinson, 2013 Mich. App. (Mich. Ct. App. 2013) ultimately dismissed the Robinson’s claims, therein affirming the decision from the lower court.

The Robinsons raised two issues. First, the Robinsons argued that MERS, through its predecessor, committed fraud in the execution of the mortgage. Second, the Robinsons allege that plaintiff did not have the right to foreclose because there is no evidence of record that the Robinsons’ note was assigned to plaintiff. After considering the Robinson’s arguments, the court dismissed them.

 

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The court in deciding Koenig v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2013 U.S. Dist. (E.D. Cal., 2013) ultimately granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff Philip A. Koenig commenced this action against defendant Bank of America. Plaintiff alleged causes of action for violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). Plaintiff also brought claim requesting declaratory relief against the defendant. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). After considering the arguments, the court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

The theory underlying the totality of plaintiff’s complaint was that defendant had no right to affect foreclosure on the property. The second cause of action was a request for declaratory relief. Plaintiff sought a declaration from the court indicating that the defendant did not have and had never had any interest in the property.

Plaintiff alleged that the entity that intended to foreclose on the property was not the lender that originated any mortgage and was not an assignee of any mortgagee or a duly appointed trustee, thus the entity lacked the legal authority to foreclose.

After consider the plaintiff’s arguments, the court rejected them and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

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The Audit Division of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General has issued an Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud.  One word for it — DEPRESSING:

The Department’s inability to accurately collect data about its mortgage fraud efforts was starkly demonstrated when we sought to review the Distressed Homeowner Initiative. On October 9, 2012, the FFETF [Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force] held a press conference to publicize the results of the initiative. During this press conference, the Attorney General announced that the initiative resulted in 530 criminal defendants being charged, including 172 executives, in 285 criminal indictments or informations filed in federal courts throughout the United States during the previous 12 months. The Attorney General also announced that 110 federal civil cases were filed against over 150 defendants for losses totaling at least $37 million, and involving more than 15,000 victims. According to statements made at the press conference, these cases involved more than 73,000 homeowner victims and total losses estimated at more than $1 billion.

Shortly after this press conference, we requested documentation that supported the statistics presented. In November 2012, in response to our request, DOJ officials informed us that shortly after the press conference concluded they became concerned with the accuracy of the statistics. Based on a review of the case list that was the basis for the figures, the then-Executive Director of the FFETF told us that numerous significant errors and inaccuracies existed with the information. For example, multiple cases were included in the reported statistics that were not distressed homeowner-related fraud. Also, a significant number of the included cases were brought prior to the FY 2012 timeframe. (ii, footnote omitted)

According to the report, this was not a one time problem with the DoJ’s reporting about mortgage fraud.

The audit “makes 7 recommendations to help DoJ improve its understanding, coordination, and reporting of its efforts to address mortgage fraud.” (iii) The last two seem to be the most important:

6. Develop a method to capture additional data that will allow DOJ to better understand the results of its efforts in investigating and prosecuting mortgage fraud and to identify the position of mortgage fraud defendants within an organization.

7. Develop a method to readily identify mortgage fraud criminal and civil enforcement efforts for reporting purposes. (30)

I (along with Brad Borden) have previously argued that law enforcement agencies have not been tough enough on high-level perpetrators of mortgage fraud, although our position appears to be the minority view among lawyers (see here for a more common view). I think this audit supports our view that, for one reason or another, prosecutors have dropped the ball on this in a big way. It’s probably too late to do anything about the last financial crisis, but it sure would be swell to have a system of accountability put in place for the next one!

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The Center for Budget and Policy Priorites has issued a short report, Research Shows Housing Vouchers Reduce Hardship and Provide Platform for Long-Term Gains Among Children. Many housing policy researchers favor housing voucher programs over project-specific housing subsidies, although policymakers consistently favor the latter. So while this report isn’t really news, it is important to that its main points are frequently reiterated:

The Housing Choice Voucher program, the nation’s largest rental assistance program, helps more than 2 million low-income families rent modest units of their choice in the private market. Vouchers sharply reduce homelessness and other hardships, lift more than a million people out of poverty, and give families an opportunity to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods. These effects, in turn, are closely linked to educational, developmental, and health benefits that can improve children’s long-term life chances and reduce costs in other public programs. This analysis reviews research findings on vouchers’ impact on families with children, people with disabilities, and other poor and vulnerable households. (1, footnote omitted)

The report is not as precise as I would have liked. It describes a study of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families-eligible families as a study of “low-income” families. (compare text on page one with text in footnote ii). People eligible for Housing Choice Vouchers and TANF are “very low-income,” which is a meaningfully distinct subset of low-income families.Very low-income families have incomes that do not exceed 50% of the area median income whereas low-income families generally have incomes that do not exceed 80% of the area median income. I would guess that the findings about the very low-income subset would not directly apply to the bigger set of low-income families.

With that caveat in mind, here are the report’s main findings about Housing Choice Vouchers. They

  • Reduced the share of families that lived in shelters or on the streets by three-fourths, from 13 percent to 3 percent.
  • Reduced the share of families that lacked a home of their own — a broader group that includes those doubled up with friends and family in addition to those in shelters or on the streets — by close to 80 percent, from 45 percent to 9 percent.
  • Reduced the share of families living in crowded conditions by more than half, from 46 percent to 22 percent.
  • Reduced the number of times that families moved over a five-year period, on average, by close to 40 percent. (1)

These are big effects. Policymakers, pay attention!

 

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Adam Levitin and Janneke Ratcliffe have posted Rethinking Duties to Serve in Housing Finance to SSRN (also on the Harvard Center for Housing Studies site here). The paper states that

an important question going forward concerns the role of duties to serve (DTS) — obligations on lending institutions to reach out to traditionally underserved communities and borrowers. Should there be DTS, and if so, who should have the responsibility to serve whom, with what, and how? (2)

These are, indeed, important questions as regulators chart a course between requiring safe underwriting by lenders and ensuring access to credit for communities that have historically had little access to sustainable credit. The authors distinguish fair lending from duties to serve, with the former being an obligation not to discriminate and the latter being an affirmative duty to address the “disparity of financial opportunity.” (2) The paper describes two main DTS regimes,the Community Reinvestment Act and the Fannie/Freddie housing goals, as well as their limitations.

The paper concludes that the “aftermath of the housing bubble presents an opportunity to rebuild DTS” and proposes a set of reforms. (29) I highlight the first two here:

  1. “DTS should apply universally to the entire primary market,” covering both depositories and non-depositories in order to avoid incentives to engage in regulatory arbitrage. (30)
  2. “DTS should apply equally for all secondary market entities,” not just the Fannies and Freddies of the world. (30)

This paper has a lot to offer thoughtful policymakers. As with everything to do with our massive housing finance system, however, the devil is in the details of any regulatory regime. Mandatory duties to serve must be drafted to so that they are consistent with safe underwriting practices. This paper starts a conversation about doing just that.