Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 14, 2012

Levitin and Wachter’s New History of American Housing Finance

By David Reiss

Adam Levitin and Susan Wachter have released a very interesting paper on The Public Option in Housing Finance.  The paper provides a history of the development of the housing finance infrastructure in the United States.  It concludes that

[t]he experience of the U.S. housing finance market teaches us that public options can only succeed as a regulatory mode in certain circumstances. A public option that coexists with private parties in the market is only effective at shaping the market if all parties in the market have to compete based on the same rules and standards. Otherwise, the result is merely market segmentation. Moreover, without basic standards applicable to all parties, the result can quickly become a race-to-the-bottom that can damage not only private parties, but also public entities.(60)

Personally, I wish they struggled more with the trillion dollar issue that they highlight in the middle of the paper:  “It is not clear how deep of a housing market can be supported if credit risk is borne by private parties rather than by government.”  (30)  As the Obama Administration seeks to impose a new order on the housing finance market that will likely last for generations, we should seek a consensus (or as close to one as we can) among policymakers as to how much credit risk the private sector can take when it comes to mortgages secured by single and multifamily housing.  Personally, I believe it can handle a lot more than we give it credit for.

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