Housing in the Trump Era

 

The Real Estate Transactions Section of the American Association of Law Schools has issued the following Call for Papers:

Access + Opportunity + Choice: Housing Capital, Equity, and Market Regulation in the Trump Era

Program Description:

The year 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the 2008 housing crisis—an event described as the most significant financial and economic upheaval since the Great Depression. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which upended many decades of overt housing discrimination. Both events remind us of the significant role that housing has played in the American story—both for good and for bad.

Of the many aspects of financial reform that followed 2008, much of the housing finance-related work was centered around mortgage loan origination and creating incentives and rules dealing with underwriting and the risk of moral hazard. Some of these reforms include the creation of the qualified mortgage safe-harbor and the skin-in-the-game risk retention rules. But when it came to the secondary mortgage market, little significant reform was undertaken. The only government action of any serious importance related to the federal government—through the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)—taking over control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This major government intervention into the workings of the country’s two mortgage giants yielded takings lawsuits, an outcry from shareholders, and the decimation of the capital reserves of both companies. Despite Fannie and Freddie having both paid back all the bailout funds given to them, the conservatorship remains in place to this day.

In the area of fair housing, the past several years saw the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities case whereby the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (and narrowed the scope of) the disparate impact theory under the Fair Housing Act. We also saw efforts aimed at reducing geographic concentrations of affordable housing through the Obama administration’s promulgation of the affirmatively furthering fair housing rule.

Yet, meaningful housing reform remains elusive. None of the major candidates in the most recent presidential election meaningfully addressed the issue in their policy platforms, and a lack of movement in resolving the Fannie/Freddie conservatorship is viewed as a major failure of the Obama administration. Additionally, housing segregation and access to affordable mortgage credit continues to plague the American economy.

In recent months, the topics of housing finance reform and providing Americans with credit (including mortgage credit) choices have been a point of focus on Capitol Hill and in the Trump White House. Will these conservations result in meaningful legislation or changes in regulatory approaches in these areas? Will programs like the low-income-housing tax credit, the CFPB’s mandatory underwriting requirements, public housing subsidies, and the government’s role in guaranteeing and securitizing mortgage loans significantly change? Where are points of possible agreement between the country’s two major parties in this area and what kinds of compromises can be made?

Call for Papers:

The Real Estate Transactions Section looks to explore these and related issues in its 2019 AALS panel program titled: “Access and Opportunity: Housing Capital, Equity, and Market Regulation in the Trump Era.” The Section invites the submission of abstracts or full papers dealing broadly with issues related to real estate finance, the secondary mortgage market, fair housing, access to mortgage credit, mortgage lending discrimination, and the future of mortgage finance. There is no formal paper requirement associated with participation on the panel, but preference will be given to those submissions that demonstrate novel scholarly insights that have been substantially developed. Untenured scholars in particular are encouraged to submit their work. Please email your submissions to Chris Odinet at codinet@sulc.edu by Friday, August 3, 2018. The selection results will be announced in early September 2018. In additional to confirmed speakers, the Section anticipates selecting two to three papers from the call.

Confirmed Speakers:

Rigel C. Oliveri, Isabelle Wade and Paul C. Lyda Professor of Law, University of Missouri School of Law

Todd J. Zywicki, Foundation Professor of Law, George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

David Reiss, Professor of Law and Research Director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, Brooklyn Law School

Eligibility:

Per AALS rules, only full-time faculty members of AALS member law schools are eligible to submit a paper/abstract to Section calls for papers. Faculty at fee-paid law schools, foreign faculty, adjunct and visiting faculty (without a full-time position at an AALS member law school), graduate students, fellows, and non-law school faculty are not eligible to submit.

All panelists, including speakers selected from this Call for Papers, are responsible for paying their own annual meeting registration fee and travel expenses.

GSE Conservatorship History Lesson

Mark Calabria, the Director of Financial Regulation Studies at the Cato Institute, has posted a very interesting paper, The Resolution of Systemically Important Financial Institutions: Lessons from Fannie and Freddie. This is a more formal version of what he presented at the AALS meeting early this month. I do not agree with all of Mark’s analysis, but this paper certainly opened my eyes about what can happen in committee when important statutes are being drafted. It opens,

There was perhaps no issue of greater importance to the financial regulatory reforms of 2010 than the resolution, without taxpayer assistance, of large financial institutions. The rescue of firms such as AIG shocked the public conscience and provided the political force behind the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. Such is reflected in the fact that Titles I and II of Dodd-Frank relate to the identification and resolution of large financial entities. How the tools established in Titles I and II are implemented are paramount to the success of Dodd-Frank. This paper attempts to gauge the likely success of these tools via the lens of similar tools created for the resolution of the housing government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
An additional purpose of this paper is to provide some additional “legislative history” to the resolution mechanisms contained in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), which established a resolution framework for the GSEs similar to that ultimately created in Title II of Dodd-Frank. The intent is to inform current debates over the resolution of systemically important financial institutions by revisiting how such issues were debated and agreed upon in HERA. (1-2)
As an outside-the-Beltway type, I found the “legislative history” very interesting, even if it wouldn’t qualify as any type of legislative history that a judge would consider in interpreting a statute. It does, however, offer policy wonks, bureaucrats and politicians an inside view of how a Congressional staffer helps to make the sausage that is legislation. It also shows that in the realm of legislation, as in the realm of fiction, author’s intent can play out in tricky ways.

Calabria concludes,

The neglect of HERA’s tools and the likely similar neglect of Dodd-Frank’s suggest a much deeper reform of our financial regulatory system is in order. The regulatory culture of “whatever it takes” must be abandoned. A respect for the rule of law and obedience to the letter of the law must be instilled in our regulatory culture. More important, the incentives facing regulators must be dramatically changed. If we hope to end “too-big-to-fail” and to curtail moral hazard more generally, significant penalties must be created for rescues as well as deviations from statute. A very difficult question is that lack of standing for any party to litigate to enforce statutory prohibitions against rescues. (19)

I take a couple of lessons from this paper. First, tight drafting of legislation that is supposed to kick in during a crisis is key. If a statute has wiggle room, decision makers are going to stretch it out as they see fit. And second, I agree with Mark that even tight drafting won’t necessarily keep government actors from acting as they see fit in a crisis.

If Congress really want to constrain the choices of future decision makers, it will need to grant a third party standing to enforce that decision as it is unlikely that crisis managers will have the self-restraint to forgo options that they would otherwise prefer. Congress should be very careful about constraining the choices of these future decision makers. But if it chooses to do so, that would be the way to go.

 

Housing Finance Reform at the AALS

The Financial Institutions and Consumer Financial Services Section and the Real Estate Transactions section of the American Association of Law Schools hosted a joint program at the AALS annual meeting on The Future of the Federal Housing Finance System. I moderated the session, along with Cornell’s Bob Hockett.
Former Representative Brad Miller (D-N.C.) keynoted.  Until recently he was a Senior Fellow, at the Center for American Progress and is now a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He was followed by four more great speakers:
The program overview was as follows:
The fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are subject to the vagaries of politics, regulation,public opinion, the economy, and not least of all the numerous cases that were filed in 2013 against various government entities arising from the placement of the two companies into conservatorship. All of these vagaries occur, moreover, against a backdrop of surprising public and political ignorance of the history and functions of the GSEs and their place in the broader American financial and housing economies. This panel will take the long view to identify how the American housing finance market should be structured, given all of these constraints. Invited speakers include academics, government officials and researchers affiliated to think tanks. They will discuss the various bills that have been proposed to reform that market including Corker-Warner and Johnson-Crapo. They will also address regulatory efforts by the Federal Housing Finance Agency to shape the federal housing finance system in the absence of Congressional reform.
During the presentations, I felt a bit of awe for the collective knowledge of the speakers.  The program also emphasized for me how much there always is to learn about a topic as complex as housing finance.
Laurie Goodman was kind enough to let me post her PowerPoint slides from the program. If you are looking for a good overview of the current state of housing finance reform, you will want to take a look at them.
I was a bit depressed by the slide titled, “Why GSE reform is unlikely before 2017:”
1. There is no sense of urgency: GSEs are profitable, current system is functioning.
2. Higher legislative priorities.
3. No easy answers as to what a new housing finance system should look like.
4. Bipartisan action requires compromise, and some believe they have more to lose than to gain by compromising in this arena.
While the slide depressed me, I think it offers a pretty realistic assessment of where we are. I hope Congress and the Obama Administration prove me wrong.

Reiss on Housing Affordability

I will be speaking on the FHA and Housing Affordability on June 11th at the AALS Workshop on Poverty, Immigration and Property will be held June 10-12 in San Diego.

The workshop brings together three communities of scholars: poverty, immigration and property to address historical issues and recent developments in the intersection of these topics. The topics covered in this innovative workshop include plenary sessions on What Lies at the Intersection of Poverty, Property, and Immigration; After SB 1070: Exclusion, Inclusion, and Immigrants; Reconsidering State v. Shack; and Transnational Perspectives on Poverty, Immigration, and Property. A range of concurrent panels will be established based on proposed topics and a call for papers and presentations.

 I will be posting a version of my paper later this summer.