Challenges for Modern Housing Markets

Professor Barnes

Professor Boyack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will be speaking in a free American Bar Association webinar tomorrow, Challenges for Modern Housing Markets:

Our current housing system is not sustainable in terms of the market, residential tenure, cost stability, and neighborhood inequality. Our panelists will discuss some key areas in which housing must be stabilized in order to strengthen our economy and society. Our panelists will address ways to lessen the volatility of housing prices and home mortgage lending, the importance of and ways to improve stability of residency, ways to improve the sustainability of affordable housing, and recent lawsuits that have reframed the problem of distressed and inequitable communities.

The other speakers are

The program will be moderated by Professor Wilson R. Freyermuth, University of Missouri School of Law.

My remarks will be drawn in part from my work on the Federal Housing Administration.

The webinar is free and open to all.  It will take place Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern/11:30 a.m. Central/9:30 a.m. Pacific.

Register for the webinar at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner.

The webinar is sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group. It is part of a series of webinars that features a panel of law professors who address topics of interest to practitioners of real estate and trusts/estates.

 

American Bankers on Mortgage Market Reform

The American Bankers Association has issued a white paper, Mortgage Lending Rules: Sensible Reforms for Banks and Consumers. The white paper contains a lot of common sense suggestions but its lack of sensitivity to consumer concerns greatly undercuts its value. It opens,

The Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System, enumerated in Executive Order 13772, include the following that are particularly relevant to an evaluation of current U.S. rules and regulatory practices affecting residential mortgage finance:

(a) empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth;

(c) foster economic growth and vibrant financial markets through more rigorous regulatory impact analysis that addresses systemic risk and market failures, such as moral hazard and information asymmetry; and

(f) make regulation efficient, effective, and appropriately tailored.

The American Bankers Association offers these views to the Secretary of the Treasury in relation to the Directive that he has received under Section 2 of the Executive Order.

 Recent regulatory activity in mortgage lending has severely affected real estate finance. The existing regulatory regime is voluminous, extremely technical, and needlessly prescriptive. The current regulatory regimen is restricting choice, eliminating financial options, and forcing a standardization of products such that community banks are no longer able to meet their communities’ needs.

 ABA recommends a broad review of mortgage rules to refine and simplify their application. This white paper advances a series of specific areas that require immediate modifications to incentivize an expansion of safe lending activities: (i) streamline and clarify disclosure timing and methodologies, (ii) add flexibility to underwriting mandates, and (iii) fix the servicing rules.

 ABA advises that focused attention be devoted to clarifying the liability provisions in mortgage regulations to eliminate uncertainties that endanger participation and innovation in the real estate finance sector. (1, footnote omitted)

Its useful suggestions include streamlining regulations to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens; clarifying legal liabilities that lenders face so that they can act more freely without triggering outsized criminal and civil liability in the ordinary course of business; and creating more safe harbors for products that are not prone to abuse.

But the white paper is written as if the subprime boom and bust of the early 2000s never happened. It pays not much more than lip service to consumer protection regulation, but it seeks to roll it back significantly:

ABA is fully supportive of well-regulated markets where well-crafted rules are effective in protecting consumers against abuse. Banks support clear disclosures and processes to assure that consumers receive clear and comprehensive information that enables them to understand the transaction and make the best decision for their families. ABA does not, therefore, advocate for a wholesale deconstruction of existing consumer protection regulations . . . (4)

If we learned anything from the subprime crisis it is that disclosure is not enough.  That is why the rules.  Could these rules be tweaked? Sure.  Should they be dramatically weakened? No. Until the ABA grapples with the real harm done to consumers during the subprime era, their position on mortgage market reform should be taken as a special interest position paper, not a white paper in the public interest.

Fair Lending Fade-out

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Bloomberg BNA quoted me in In 2017, Look for Pullback on Fair Lending Enforcement (behind a paywall). It opens,

Expect a pullback in fair lending enforcement in 2017, and especially less focus on disparate impact discrimination as the Trump administration takes office.

That’s the assessment of banking attorneys and others weighing the role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Justice Department in the uncertain year ahead.

Although a recent court ruling raises questions about CFPB Director Richard Cordray’s tenure, several said they expect the CFPB to be less assertive no matter who heads the agency.

Meanwhile, new leadership at the Justice Department and HUD means that disparate impact claims—allegations of discriminatory effect, without regard to subjective intent—will get less attention than in recent years.

David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, N.Y., summed up the assessment of several interviewed by Bloomberg BNA on the picture ahead for 2017.

“I would guess that disparate impact won’t be a priority for the Trump administration,” Reiss said.

New Leadership Ahead

In November, Trump said he’ll nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general. The president-elect also Dec. 5 named Ben Carson, the former director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, as his candidate to lead HUD.

Alan S. Kaplinsky, a partner in Philadelphia who leads the consumer financial services practice at Ballard Spahr, said he doesn’t expect Sessions “to be a strong advocate for pushing the legal envelope on fair lending issues.”

And Carson might not use what some have called an “enforcement by litigation” approach to housing policy, according to Joseph Pigg, the American Bankers Association’s senior vice president for mortgage finance.

“Returning to a more normal enforcement regime should be a positive for borrowers and lenders alike,” Pigg told Bloomberg BNA. HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan declined to comment on the fair-lending outlook at HUD.

A Well-Known Unknown

Carson, a well-known physician and education reform advocate, took on an even higher profile by entering the 2016 White House race. But on lending, housing and other matters likely to come before him should he take the helm at HUD, Carson’s record is sparse.

One exception is a July 23, 2015, opinion piece in the Washington Times, where Carson criticized HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. Although HUD has a distinct regulation that governs disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act, the AFFH rule has a different focus. The regulation, drawn from language in the Fair Housing Act itself, lays out a new process that HUD says “promotes housing choice and fosters inclusive communities free from housing discrimination.”

Carson criticized the AFFH rule, saying it would inject too much government decision-making into local housing policy. The rule, issued in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in a major 2015 case on disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act, might actually frustrate efforts to develop new housing, he said.

Reiss predicted that Carson will either try to get rid of the AFFH rule, or decide not to enforce it. But he also said Carson’s stance on the regulation probably is somewhat nuanced.

“He’s acknowledged the history of redlining, restrictive covenants, and other problems,” Reiss told Bloomberg BNA. “He doesn’t seem to be denying a history of structural racism in the housing market. He seems to be saying the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule goes too far.”

The State of Mortgage Lending

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The American Bankers Association has issued its 23rd Annual ABA Residential Real Estate Survey Report for 2016. There is a lot to unpack in its findings. The key ones are

  • About 86 percent of loans originated by banks were QM [Qualified Mortgage] compliant compared to 90 percent in 2014, likely because more banks are adjusting underwriting criteria to target selected non-QM loan opportunities
  • Despite increased non-QM lending, approximately 72 percent of respondents expect the current ATR [Ability to Repay]/QM regulations will continue to reduce credit availability – down from nearly 80 percent in 2014
  • Relatedly, the percentage of banks restricting lending to QM segments dropped from 33 percent to 26 percent, and those providing targeted non-QM lending rose to 54 percent from 48 percent
  • High debt-to-income levels continue to be the most likely reason why a non-QM loan did not meet QM standards
  • The percentage of single family mortgage loans made to first time home buyers continues to climb to a new all-time high as it represented 15 percent of loans underwritten in 2015 – up from 13 percent in 2013 and 14 percent in 2014
  • Approximately half of the respondents state that regulations have a moderate negative impact on business, while nearly a quarter report the impact as extremely negative (4)

The most important finding is that banks are becoming more and more comfortable with non-QM loans. I had thought that this would happen more quickly than it has, but it now seems that the industry has become comfortable with the ATR/QM regs.

There are good non-QM loans — for good borrowers with quirky circumstances. And there are bad non-QM loans — for bad borrowers generally. As a result, the finding that “High debt-to-income levels continue to be the most likely reason why a non-QM loan did not meet QM standards” could cut both ways. There are some non-QM borrowers with high debt-to-income [DTI] ratios who are good credit risks.  Think of the doctor about to finish a residency and enter private practice. And there are some non-QM borrowers with high DTI who are bad credit risks. Think of the borrower with lots of student loan, credit card and auto debt. Unfortunately this survey does not provide any insight into what types of non-QM loans are being originated. That is a big limitation of this survey.

The finding that about “half of the respondents state that regulations have a moderate negative impact on business, while nearly a quarter report the impact as extremely negative” is also ambiguous. Is a negative impact a reduction in the number of loan originations? But what if those loans were likely to be unsustainable because of the high DTI ratios of bad borrowers? Is it so bad for the ATR/QM regulations to have kept those loans from having been made in the first place? I don’t think so. It is hard to tell what is meant by this survey question as well. Perhaps the ABA could tighten up its questions for next year’s survey.

Nominate REFinblog for The Blawg 100 (Please)

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