REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

March 21, 2017

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently offers some of the lowest mortgage rates in the country. Recently, the government branch added another component to assist with providing Americans with affordable housing. Soon residents of all 50 states will be able to refinance their homes at lower rates.
  • The Federal Reserve was examined by Congress’ Monetary Policy and Trade Subcommittee. The committee sought to analyze the agencies practice in balancing America’s financial plans in a more economically forward way. The committee found “‘masking’ of federal reforms and compromise” of the Obama administration which hurt the U.S. economy.

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March 21, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

March 20, 2017

United States v. CFPB

By David Reiss

photo by AgnosticPreachersKid

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse

The Trump Administration has filed an amicus brief in PHH Corp. v. CFPB. The case is schedule for an en banc hearing in May. The filing is particularly newsworthy because the Trump Administration is siding with PHH, a mortgage lender, against the CFPB, a federal agency. The Trump Administration summarizes its position as follows:

In 2010, Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as part of the Dodd-Frank Act, giving the CFPB authority to enforce U.S. consumer-protection laws that had previously been administered by seven different government agencies, as well as new provisions added by Dodd-Frank itself. See 12 U.S.C. § 5581(b). The CFPB is headed by a single Director who is appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a term of five years, id. § 5491(b), (c)(1), and who may be removed by the President only for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office,” id. § 5491(c)(3).

The panel in this case held that this “for cause” removal provision violates the constitutional separation of powers. Op. 9-10. The panel explained—and neither party disputes—that, as a general matter, the President has “Article II authority to supervise, direct, and remove at will subordinate [principal] officers in the Executive Branch” in order to exercise his vested power and duty to faithfully execute the laws. Op. 4. The panel recognized as well that Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 629 (1935), established an exception to that rule, holding that Congress may “forbid [the] removal except for cause” of members of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—a holding that has been understood to cover members of other multi-member regulatory commissions that share certain features and functions with the FTC. Op. 4.

The principal constitutional question in this case is whether the exception to the President’s removal authority recognized in Humphrey’s Executor should be extended by this Court beyond multi-member regulatory commissions to an agency headed by a single Director. While we do not agree with all of the reasoning in the panel’s opinion, the United States agrees with the panel’s conclusion that single-headed agencies are meaningfully different from the type of multi-member regulatory commission addressed in Humphrey’s Executor.

The Supreme Court’s analysis in Humphrey’s Executor was premised on the nature of the FTC as a continuing deliberative body, composed of several members with staggered terms to maintain institutional expertise and promote a measure of stability that would not be immediately undermined by political vicissitudes. A single-headed agency, of course, lacks those critical structural attributes that have been thought to justify “independent” status for multi-member regulatory commissions. Moreover, because a single agency head is unchecked by the constraints of group decision-making among members appointed by different Presidents, there is a greater risk that an “independent” agency headed by a single person will engage in extreme departures from the President’s executive policy. And as the panel recognized, while multi-member regulatory commissions sharing the characteristics of the FTC discussed in Humphrey’s Executor have existed for over a century, limitations on the President’s authority to remove a single agency head are a recent development to which the Executive Branch has consistently objected.

We therefore urge the Court to decline to extend the exception recognized in Humphrey’s Executor in this case. (1-2)

This is of course an obscure argument about administrative law jurisprudence, but it also has serious real world consequences. I have previously argued that the panel reached the wrong result in this case and I think that the en banc Court will overturn it.

This amicus brief does not add too much to the reasoning in Judge Kavanaugh’s majority opinion in PHH v. CFPB, although it does flesh out one important argument that it made. The brief provides some support for the position that multi-member commissions are better suited to run independent agencies than single directors. But while it makes the case that single director agencies may not be the best choice for agency design, it does not make the case that it is an unconstitutional one.

 

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March 20, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Jamila Moore

  • A class member in a suit against New Jersey is very unhappy with the 9.6 million dollar settlement reached.  The “tax lien bid-rigging” costed homeowners approximately 400 million dollars. The class member filed an appeal in the Third Circuit to ensure a more reasonable settlement is reached.
  • Rick Renzi, a former Arizona Congressman, was convicted of corruption due to his role in a local land deal. During the trial the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) did not disclose an offer made to a witness of the prosecution. As a result, Renzi is asking for a new trial citing witness tainting as the reason.
  • The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York (FHLB) and Lehman Bros. Holding Inc.recently completed their pretrial arguments. FHLB stands accused of defrauding the company of 150 million dollars due to a valuation of interest rates swapped during the 2008 financial crisis.

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March 20, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

March 17, 2017

Can Downpayment Assistance Work?

By David Reiss

The HUD Inspector General issued a report on FHA-Insured Loan with Borrower-Financed Downpayment Assistance. Downpayment assistance has a long history of failure, a history that has led to big losses for the FHA and foreclosures for borrowers. The IG audited HUD’s oversight of FHA-insured loans that were originated with downpayment assistance. The Inspector General had already determined that “lenders allowed FHA borrowers to finance their own downpayments through an increase in their mortgage interest rate as part of programs administered through housing finance agencies.” (1)

The IG found that HUD

failed to adequately oversee more than $16.1 billion in FHA loans that may have been originated with borrower-financed downpayment assistance to ensure compliance with HUD requirements, putting the FHA Mortgage Insurance Fund at unnecessary risk. Between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016, HUD guaranteed nearly $12.9 billion in FHA loans that may contain questioned assistance. While governmental entities are not prohibited sources of downpayment assistance, the assistance provided through these programs did not comply with HUD requirements. FHA borrowers were required to obtain a premium interest rate and, therefore, repaid the assistance through higher mortgage payments and fees. Despite the prohibition against similar seller-funded programs, HUD’s requirements appeared to have enabled the growth of these questioned programs. In addition, HUD did not adequately track these loans and review the funding structure of these programs. Despite concerns raised by OIG, HUD failed to protect FHA borrowers against the higher mortgage payments and higher fees imposed on them, which increased the risks to the FHA Insurance Fund in the event of default. (1)

The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has criticized the IG’s report on methodological grounds. I will defer to the Urban Institute’s critique because they have done a lot of work in this area.

But I do think that the IG is right to pay careful attention to downpayment assistance programs. Historically, they have proven too good to be true. One of the FHA’s biggest failures resulted from the downpayment assistance program that was set forth in the American Dream Downpayment Assistance Act of 2003.

The IG recommends that HUD

(1) reconsider its position on questioned borrower-financed downpayment assistance programs,

(2) develop and implement policies and procedures to review loans with downpayment assistance,

(3) develop requirements for lenders to review downpayment assistance programs,

(4) require lenders to obtain a borrower certification that details borrower participation,

(5) ensure that lenders enter all downpayment assistance data into FHA Connection, and

(6) implement data fields where lenders would be required to enter specific downpayment assistance information. (1)

The IG’s procedural recommendations all seem reasonable enough, whether you agree or disagree with the folks at the Urban Institute.

 

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March 17, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • In response to the Trump Administration’s preliminary budget plan, several Democratic Senators denounced potential cuts to HUD that would drastically undermine its programs. In a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, the lawmakers called the budget reductions being considered “unconscionable” and warned that they could pose health risks to residents of HUD-assisted housing.
  • The Federal Reserve just announced the first interest rate hike of 2017, and the second rate hike in three months. The Federal Open Market Committee concluded its meeting with the announcement that the Fed will raise interest rates by 25 basis points to a range between 0.75% to 1%.

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March 17, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

March 16, 2017

Trump, Homelessness and the General Welfare

By David Reiss

photo by Jay Black

The Hill published my column, Trump’s Budget Proposal Is Bad News for Housing Across the Nation. It opens,

The White House unveiled its much anticipated budget proposal today. It shows deep cuts to important agencies, including a more than $6 billion decrease in funding to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than 75 percent of the agency’s budget goes to helping families pay their rent. Thus, these cuts would have a negative impact on thousands upon thousands of poor and working class households.

Many years ago, Congress enshrined the “goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family” within its Declaration of National Housing Policy. This goal was not just justified by the basic needs of those with inadequate housing, but also because “the general welfare and security of the nation” required it. As our nation’s leading cities grapple with rapidly growing homeless populations, this additional justification takes on added weight today.

Click here to read the rest of it.

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March 16, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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March 16, 2017 | Permalink | No Comments