April 24, 2015
The Urban Institute has posted a Housing Finance Policy Center Brief, The GSEs’ Shrinking Role in the Multifamily Market. It opens,
Though the two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs)—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—are best known for their dominant role in the single-family mortgage market, they have also been major providers of multifamily housing financing for more than 25 years. Their role in the multifamily market, however, has declined substantially since the housing crisis and has reverted to more normalized levels. In addition, even as the GSEs continue to meet or exceed their multifamily affordable housing goals, their financing for certain underserved segments of the market has fallen steeply in recent years.
Given recent declines, policymakers and regulators should consider maintaining or increasing the GSEs’ footprint in the multifamily market, especially in underserved segments. The scorecard cap increases and exemptions recently employed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to slow the decline in GSE multifamily volume have been somewhat effective, but they may not be enough to prevent the GSEs’ role from shrinking further. (1)
The policy brief’s main takeaway is that “policymakers and regulators should consider maintaining or increasing GSEs’ role in the multifamily market.” (8) I was struck by the fact that this policy brief pretty much took for granted that it is good for the GSEs to have such a big (and increasing) role in the multifamily market:
Though the multifamily market continues to remain strong and private financing is readily available today, it is also poised to grow significantly because of rising property prices and higher future demand. This raises the question of whether the GSEs should continue to shrink their multifamily footprint even further below the level of early 2000s, a period of relatively stable housing market. (8)
Government intervention in markets is usually called for when there is a market failure. The policy brief indicates the opposite — “private financing is readily available today.” The brief does argue that financing “backed by pure private capital is likely to be concentrated within the more profitable mid-to-high end of the market.” (9) That does not indicate that there is a market failure, just that borrowing costs should be cheaper for such projects. If the federal government is going to effectively subsidize a functioning credit market through the GSEs, it should make sure that it is getting something concrete in return, like affordable housing. Just supporting a credit market generally because it tends to support affordable housing is an inefficient way to achieve public goods like affordable housing. It also is a recipe for special interest capture and a future housing finance crisis. To the extent that this private credit market can function on its own, the government should limit its role to safety and soundness regulation and affordable housing creation.| Permalink