April 20, 2018
Mick Mulvaney plays against type by signing off on a Consent Order with a billion dollar penalty for Wells Fargo. The Order stated that Wells, among other things, charged “fees for rate-lock extensions in connection with residential-mortgage lending” and violated the law when it “unfairly failed to follow the mortgage-interest-rate-lock process it explained to some prospective borrowers…” (1) Reading the details of what happened gives a sense of what happens when a large financial institutions runs amok, making consumers feel like they are in some absurd movie where a malevolent force is out to get them and they don’t know why. The Order states that Wells “inappropriately charged borrowers rate-lock-extension fees that should have
been absorbed by Respondent.” (5-6) Here are some highlights of how such a practice develops in a large financial institution:
13. In May 2012, in response to processing delays, Respondent stopped charging any Extension Fees to borrowers. Instead, Respondent extended rate-lock periods without charging borrowers a fee.
14. In September 2013, Respondent enacted a new nationwide policy under which borrowers would pay the Extension Fee in certain circumstances.
15. Respondent’s September 2013 policy change provided that if a rate-lock extension was made necessary by borrower-caused delays, or by certain delays related to the property itself, the borrower could be charged an Extension Fee; if there were lender-caused delays, however, Respondent would extend the rate-lock period without charging borrowers a fee, as it had done since May 2012.
16. Rate-lock choices may materially affect how much it costs consumers to get a loan. Respondent expected its loan officers to explain to prospective borrowers all of the available rate-lock options, to help borrowers select the option best suited to their needs, and to clearly explain its rate-lock process to prospective borrowers.
17. During the Rate-Lock Relevant Period, Respondent trained its loan officers to inform prospective borrowers that they would be responsible for paying Extension Fees under circumstances where the delay was caused by the borrower or related to the property itself, including when the borrower does not timely return necessary documentation, the borrower disputes a low appraisal, previously undisclosed liens are uncovered, sellers or builders delay the process, the sale is not timely approved by a condo project or co-op board, or the borrower’s credit score changes.
18. Within days of rolling out the new policy, Respondent acknowledged in internal communications that its guidelines for its loan officers were inadequate. Respondent instructed employees that Extension Fees would be charged based on the factor primarily responsible for the delay, without further guidance as to what that meant.
19. Almost three years after a 2013 internal audit first identified the risks for consumer harm relating to improperly assessed Extension Fees, an October 2016 internal audit found that Respondent inconsistently applied its policy and charged borrowers Extension Fees in situations where Respondent was responsible for the delay in the loan’s closing. (6-8)
Some think that large corporations are not prone to the same sort of byzantine policies and procedures that a large government agency is. The subprime crisis, the foreclosure crisis and even now, post-crisis, it has been clearly demonstrated time and again that they are. If that does not prove the value of the CFPB to the American consumer, I don’t know what does.
April 18, 2018
Christopher Herbert et al. has posted Expanding Access to Homeownership as a Means of Fostering Residential Integration and Inclusion. It opens,
Efforts to enable greater integration of communities by socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity have to confront the issue of housing affordability. Cities, towns and neighborhoods that offer access to better public services, transportation networks, shopping, recreational opportunities, parks and other natural amenities have higher housing costs. Expanding access to these communities for those with lower incomes and wealth necessarily entails some means of bringing housing in these areas within their financial reach. While households’ financial means are central to this issue, affordability intersects with race/ethnicity in part because minorities are more likely to be financially constrained. But to the extent that these areas are also disproportionately home to majority-white populations, discrimination and other barriers to racial/ethnic integration must also be confronted along with affordability barriers.
Enabling greater integration also entails some means of fostering residential stability by maintaining affordability in the face of changing neighborhood conditions. This issue is perhaps most salient in the context of neighborhoods that are experiencing gentrification, where historically low-income communities are experiencing rising rents and house values, increasing the risk of displacement of existing residents and blocking access to newcomers with less means. More generally, increases in housing costs in middle- and upper-income communities may also contribute to increasing segregation by putting these areas further out of reach of households with more modest means.
It is common to think of subsidized rental housing as the principal means of using public resources to expand access to higher-cost neighborhoods and to maintain affordability in areas of increasing demand. But for a host of reasons, policies that help to make homeownership more affordable and accessible should be included as part of a portfolio of approaches designed to achieve these goals.
For example, survey research consistently finds that homeownership remains an important aspiration of most renters, including large majorities of low- and moderate-income households and racial/ethnic minorities. Moreover, because owner-occupied homes account for substantial majorities of the existing housing stock in low-poverty and majority-white neighborhoods, expanding access to homeownership offers the potential to foster integration and to increase access to opportunity for low- income households and households of color. There is also solid evidence that homeownership remains an important means of accruing wealth, which in turn can help expand access to higher-cost communities. Owning a home is associated with greater residential stability, in part because it provides protection from rent inflation, which can help maintain integration in the face of rising housing costs. Finally, in communities where owner-occupied housing predominates, there may be less opposition to expanding affordable housing options for homeowners.
The goal of this paper is to identify means of structuring subsidies and other public interventions intended to expand access to homeownership with an eye towards fostering greater socioeconomic and racial/ethnic integration. (1-2, footnotes omitted)
The paper gives an overview of the barriers to increasing the homeownership rate, including affordability, access to credit and information deficits and then outlines policy options to increase homeownership. The paper provides a good overview for those who want to know more about this topic.
April 17, 2018
In recent years, renters’ housing costs have far outpaced their incomes, driving a nationwide affordability crisis. Current data from the American Housing Survey show that most poor renting families spend at least 50 percent of their income on housing costs. Under these conditions, 1 millions of Americans today are at risk of losing their homes through eviction.
An eviction occurs when a landlord forcibly expels a tenant from a residence. While the majority of evictions are attributed to nonpayment of rent, landlords may evict tenants for a variety of other reasons, including property damage, nuisance complaints, or lease violations. A formal eviction occurs when a landlord carries out an eviction through the court system. Conversely, an informal eviction occurs when a landlord executes an eviction without initiating a legal process. For example, a landlord may offer a buyout or perform an illegal lock-out. Until recently, little was known about the prevalence, causes, and consequences of eviction.
The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has collected, cleaned, geocoded, aggregated, and publicized all recorded court-ordered evictions that occurred between 2000 and 2016 in the United States. This data set consists of 82,935,981 million court records related to eviction cases in the United States between 2000 and 2016, gleaned from multiple sources. It is the most comprehensive data set of evictions in America to date.
These data allow us to estimate the national prevalence of court-ordered eviction, and to compare eviction rates among states, counties, cities, and neighborhoods. We can observe eviction trends over time and across geography, and researchers can link these data to other sources of information. (2)
In sum, the Eviction Lab has created “the most comprehensive data set of evictions in America.” (41) This data set is obviously of great importance and will lead to important research about what it means to be poor in the United States. The Eviction Lab website has a user-friendly mapping function among other resources for researchers and policymakers.
April 16, 2018
Realtor.com quoted me in Cities With the Worst Rent: Is This How Much You’re Coughing Up? It opens,
Sure, rents are too dang high just about everywhere, but people living in Los Angeles really have a right to complain: New analysis by Forbes has found that this city tops its list of the Worst Cities for Renters in 2018.
To arrive at these depressing results, researchers delved into rental data and found that people in L.A. pay an average of $2,172 per month.
Granted, other cities have higher rents—like second and third on this list, San Francisco (at $3,288) and New York ($3,493)—but Los Angeles was still deemed the worst when you consider how this number fits into the bigger picture.
For one, Los Angeles households generally earn less compared with these other cities, pulling in a median $63,600 per year. So residents here end up funneling a full 41% of their income toward rent (versus San Franciscans’ 35%).
Manhattanites, meanwhile, fork over 52% of their income toward rent, but the saving grace here is that rents haven’t risen much—just 0.4% since last year. In Los Angeles, in that same time period, rent has shot up 5.7%.
So is this just a case of landlords greedily squeezing tenants just because they can? On the contrary, most experts say that these cities just aren’t building enough new housing to keep up with population growth.
“It is fundamentally a problem of supply and demand,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “Certain urban centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York are magnets for people and businesses. At the same time, restrictive local land use regulations keep new housing construction at very low levels. Unless those constraints are loosened, hot cities will face housing shortages and high rents no matter what affordable housing programs and rent regulation regimes are implemented to help ameliorate the situation.”
April 13, 2018
Craig Furfine has posted The Impact of Risk Retention Regulation on the Underwriting of Securitized Mortgages to SSRN. The abstract reads,
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 imposed requirements on securitization sponsors to retain not less than a 5% share of the aggregate credit risk of the assets they securitize. This paper examines whether loans securitized in deals sold after the implementation of risk-retention requirements look different from those sold before. Using a difference-in-difference empirical framework, I find that risk retention implementation is associated with mortgages being issued with markedly higher interest rates, yet notably lower loan-to-value ratios and higher income to debt-service ratios. Combined, these findings suggest that the implementation of risk retention rules has achieved a policy goal of making securitized loans safer, yet at a significant cost to borrowers.
While the paper primarily addressed the securitization of commercial mortgages, I was particularly interested in the paper’s conclusion that
the results suggest that risk retention rules will become an increasingly important factor for the underwriting of residential mortgages, too. Non-prime residential lending has continued to rapidly increase and if exemptions given to the GSEs expire in 2021 as currently scheduled, then a much greater fraction of residential lending will also be subject to these same rules. (not paginated)
As always, policymakers will need to evaluate whether we have the right balance between conservative underwriting and affordable credit. Let’s hope that they can address this issue with some objectivity given today’s polarized political climate.
April 11, 2018
Enterprise has issued Safer and Stronger Cities: Strategies for Advocating for Federal Resilience Policy. The report
offers a menu of federal recommendations organized into five chapters focusing on infrastructure, housing, economic development and public safety. Each chapter includes a set of strategies, background on the issue, explanations of the role of the Federal Government, listing of potential allies in advocating for the recommendations, and relevant examples of current or previous local, state, and federal actions.
To better support city resilience, these recommendations include high level proposals for cities to coordinate with federal government for both legislative and agency actions, which cities can drive forward. Policy and program changes will increase or leverage investment from the private sector are highlighted. (2)
The report recommends, among other things, that the federal government should
- Create a National Infrastructure Bank that supports private-public investments in resilient infrastructure, including retrofits.
- Align cost-benefit analyses across federal agencies and require agencies to consider the full life cycle costs and benefits of infrastructure over the asset’s design life and in consideration of future conditions.
- Cultivate partnerships between cities and the Defense Department to promote resilience of city assets that are critical to national security and military installations.
- Implement a system that scores infrastructure based on its resilience to better prioritize scarce federal funds.
- Coordinate Federal Government grant-making and permitting related to hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. (10)
These are good proposals, no question about it. I am not too optimistic that the current leadership in Washington will heed any of them. Local partnerships with the Defense Department might have some legs in today’s environment though, particularly given recent news reports about foreign hacking into the electrical grid.
Even those who discount the global risks arising from climate change should acknowledge the need to bolster the resiliency of our coastal cities. Let’s hope we start planning for a wetter future sooner rather than later.