Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 9, 2014

Input on Housing Counseling

By David Reiss

HUD has issued a Notice, Federal Housing Administration (FHA): Homeowners Armed With Knowledge (HAWK) for New Homebuyers (Docket No. FR-5786-N-01).

HAWK is a pilot that will

provide FHA insurance pricing incentives to first-time homebuyers who participate in housing counseling and education that covers how to evaluate housing affordability and mortgage alternatives, to better manage their finances, and to understand the rights and responsibilities of homeownership. The goals of the HAWK for New Homebuyers pilot (HAWK Pilot) are to test and evaluate program designs that meet these objectives:

•To improve the loan performance of participants and reduce claims paid by FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF).

• To expand the number of families who improve their budgeting skills and housing decisions through access to HUD-approved housing counseling agency services; and

• To increase access to sustainable home mortgages for homebuyers underserved by the current market. (27896)

I have already noted that HAWK is based upon some pretty sketchy research about the efficacy of housing counseling. The Notice presents additional research (in footnotes 5-8) that supports its goals, but I have to say that it seems cherry picked to me. The notice says, for instance, “some studies show” and “Several major studies have recently noted a correlation . . ..” But the Notice does not seem to contextualize these studies at all. A meta-analysis (see here too) of financial education initiatives is decidedly less optimistic.

It seems that the FHA and the CFPB have gone whole hog on counseling even though the evidence is not there to support such strong support. On the bright side, HAWK is a pilot program and the FHA will evaluate it to see whether it meets its goal of “improving loan performance.” (27903) I am just worried a bit worried though, because the FHA’s materials seem to show an unwarranted bias toward counseling that a review of the relevant literature does not seem to bear out.

The HAWK Notice requests comments by July 14, 2014, so you’d better act fast if you have something to say!

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