Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 8, 2013

State of the Nation’s Housing 2013: Build It and They Will Come

By David Reiss

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released The State of the Nation’s Housing 2013.  As always there is much of interest in this annual report. I was particularly intrigued by Figure 21 on page 20, “The Government Continues to Have an Outsized Footprint in the Mortgage Market.” The report states

Despite efforts to entice private capital into the mortgage market, the GSEs and FHA continue to back the vast majority of loans(Figure 21). In 2001, loans securitized into private-label securities or held in bank portfolios accounted for nearly half of loan originations. Their market share rose to about two-thirds at the height of the housing boom before retreating to the low single-digits. Beginning in 2009, government-backed loans have accounted for roughly 90 percent of all originations. While the private securities market was still moribund in 2012, portfolio lending by banks showed its first substantial increase in years (albeit to a modest level), bringing the government share down slightly. (20-21)

As Fannie and Freddie return to profitability, policymakers are acting as if only the government can provide credit to the residential mortgage market, but from Figure 21 we can see that over a relatively short time period, capital can meaningfully shift from the secondary market (private MBS) to the government (FHA, Fannie and Freddie) to the primary market (portfolio lenders). Instead of assuming that the present structure is the best of all possible worlds, we should design the system we want and incentivize capital to find it.

Build it and they will come.

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