April 14, 2014
Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. has posted Inside Johnson-Crapo: What the Senate Housing Finance Reform Bill Could Mean for Low- and Moderate-income Communities. Parsing the various Congressional proposals for housing finance reform is hard enough for an expert, let alone for an interested observer. This policy brief provides a helpful overview of the proposal that is setting the terms for the debate today, with a focus on low- and moderate-income homeownership. Its key findings include:
- The bill, called the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2014 or S. 1217, lays a clear and thoughtful path forward for the nation’s housing finance system, including the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
- A new federal agency, modeled after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, would oversee the entire secondary mortgage market and establish a new system of government-insured mortgage-backed securities (MBS). In exchange for a fee, the agency would provide limited insurance against catastrophic losses on qualifying securities issued by private companies. Investors in the private companies would need to incur significant losses before the insurance pays out to holders of the MBS. The bill also winds down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage companies that were placed under government conservatorship in 2008.
- The bill includes several provisions to ensure that the new system adequately serves low- and moderate-income communities. First, it requires any issuer of government-insured securities to serve all eligible single-family and multifamily mortgages. Second, it preserves the GSEs’ current businesses for financing rental housing, while ensuring that those businesses continue to support apartments that are affordable to low-income families. Third, it requires issuers to contribute funding to programs that support the creation and preservation of affordable housing. Finally, it creates new market-based incentives to serve traditionally underserved segments of the housing market.
- Enterprise strongly supports the direction laid out in this bill and appreciates the inclusion of important multifamily provisions. At the same time, we suggest several proposals to further strengthen the bill. Among other things, we recommend that lawmakers promote a level playing field among eligible risk-sharing models; authorize the federal regulator to enforce the bill’s “equitable access” rule; expand the scope of the affordable housing fee; simplify the incentives for supporting underserved market segments; and establish separate insurance funds for single-family and multifamily securities. (1)
The left has criticized Johnson-Crapo for not doing enough for low- and moderate-income homeownership. The right has criticized it for leaving too much risk with the taxpayer. But it seems that a broad center finds that the outline provided by the bill provides a way forward from the zombie-state housing finance finds itself in, with a Fannie and Freddie neither fully alive nor fully dead. Nobody seems to think that a bill will pass this year. But hopefully Congress will keep attending to this issue and we can soon see a resurrected housing finance system, one that can take us through much of the 21st Century just as Fannie and Freddie got us through the 20th.