Ghost of A Crisis Past

photo by Chandres

The Royal Bank of Scotland settled an investigation brought by New York Attorney General Schneiderman arising from mortgage-backed securities it issued in the run up to the financial crisis. RBS will pay a half a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money even in the context of the settlements that the federal government had wrangled from financial institutions in the aftermath to the financial crisis. The Settlement Agreement includes a Statement of Facts which RBS has acknowledged. Many settlement agreements do not include such a statement, leaving the dollar amount of the settlement to do all of the talking. We are lucky to see what facts exactly RBS is “acknowledging.”

The Statement of Facts found that assertions in the offering documents for the MBS were inaccurate and the securities have lost billions of dollars in collateral. These losses led to “shortfalls in principal and interest payments, as well as declines in the market value of their certificates.” (Appendix A at 2)

The Statement of Facts outlines just how RBS deviated from the statements it made in the offering documents:

RBS’s Representations to Investors

11. The Offering Documents for the Securitizations included, in varying forms, statements that the mortgage loans were “originated generally in accordance with” the originator’s underwriting guidelines, and that exceptions would be made on a “case-by-case basis…where compensating factors exist.” The Offering Documents further stated that such exceptions would be made “from time to time and in the ordinary course of business,” and disclosed that “[l]oans originated with exceptions may result in a higher number of delinquencies and loss severities than loans originated in strict compliance with the designated underwriting guidelines.”

12. The Offering Documents often contained statements, in varying forms, with respect to stated-income loans, that “the stated income is reasonable for the borrower’s employment and that the stated assets are consistent with the borrower’s income.”

13. The Offering Documents further contained statements, in varying forms, that each mortgage loan was originated “in compliance with applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.”

14. The Offering Documents also included statements regarding the valuation of the mortgaged properties and the resulting loan-to-value (“LTV”) ratios, such as the weighted-average LTV and maximum LTV at origination of the securitized loans.

15. In addition, the Offering Documents typically stated that loans acquired by RBS for securitization were “subject to due diligence,” often described as including a “thorough credit and compliance review with loan level testing,” and stated that “the depositor will not include any loan in a trust fund if anything has come to the depositor’s attention that would cause it to believe that the representations and warranties of the related seller regarding that loan will not be accurate and complete in all material respects….”

The Actual Quality of the Mortgage Loans in the Securitizations

16. At times, RBS’s credit and compliance diligence vendors identified a number of loans as diligence exceptions because, in their view, they did not comply with underwriting guidelines and lacked adequate compensating factors or did not comply with applicable laws and regulations. Loans were also identified as diligence exceptions because of missing documents or other curable issues, or because of additional criteria specified by RBS for the review. In some instances, RBS disagreed with the vendor’s view. Certain of these loans were included in the Securitizations.

17. Additionally, some valuation diligence reports reflected variances between the appraised value of the mortgaged properties and the values obtained through other measures, such as automated valuation models (“AVMs”), broker-price opinions (“BPOs”), and drive-by reviews. In some instances, the LTVs calculated using AVM or BPO valuations exceeded the maximum LTV stated in the Offering Documents, which was calculated using the lower of the appraised value or the purchase price. Certain of these loans were included in the Securitizations.

18. RBS often purchased and securitized loans that were not part of the diligence sample without additional loan-file review. The Offering Documents did not include a description of the diligence reports prepared by RBS’s vendors, and did not state the size of the diligence sample or the number of loans with diligence exceptions or valuation variances identified during their reviews.

19. At times, RBS agreed with originators to limit the number of loan files it could review during its due diligence. Although RBS typically reserved the right to request additional loan-level diligence or not complete the loan purchase, in practice it rarely did so. These agreements with originators were not disclosed in the Offering Documents.

20. Finally, RBS performed post-securitization reviews of certain loans that defaulted shortly after securitization. These reviews identified a number of loans that appeared to breach the representations and warranties contained in the Offering Documents. Based on these reviews, RBS in some instances requested that the loan seller or loan originator repurchase certain loans. (Appendix A at 4-5)

Some of these inaccuracies are just straight-out misrepresentations, so they would not have been caught at the time by regulators, even if regulators had been looking. And that’s why, ten years later, we are still seeing financial crisis lawsuits being resolved.

It is not clear that these types of problems can be kept from infiltrating the capital market once greed overcomes fear over the course of the business cycle. That’s why it is important for individual actors to suffer consequences when they allow greed to take the driver’s seat. We still have not figured out how to effectively address tho individual actions that result in systemic harm.

The Homeownership Rate and The Kerner Commission

 

photo by Marion S. Trikosko

President Johnson with some members of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission

The Economic Policy Institute released a report, 50 Years After The Kerner Commission.  It finds that “African Americans are better off in many ways but are still disadvantaged by racial inequality.” (1) The report opens,

The year 1968 was a watershed in American history and black America’s ongoing fight for equality. In April of that year, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and riots broke out in cities around the country. Rising against this tragedy, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 outlawing housing discrimination was signed into law. Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a black power salute as they received their medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Arthur Ashe became the first African American to win the U.S. Open singles title, and Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives.

The same year, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, delivered a report to President Johnson examining the causes of civil unrest in African American communities. The report named “white racism”—leading to “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing”—as the culprit, and the report’s authors called for a commitment to “the realization of  common opportunities for all within a single [racially undivided] society.” The Kerner Commission report pulled together a comprehensive array of data to assess the specific economic and social inequities confronting African Americans in 1968.

Where do we stand as a society today? In this brief report, we compare the state of black workers and their families in 1968 with the circumstances of their descendants today, 50 years after the Kerner report was released. We find both good news and bad news. While African Americans are in many ways better off in absolute terms than they were in 1968, they are still disadvantaged in important ways relative to whites. In several important respects, African Americans have actually lost ground relative to whites, and, in a few cases, even relative to African Americans in 1968. (1, footnote omitted)

I was particularly shocked by one figure in the report:

One of the most important forms of wealth for working and middle-class families is home equity. Yet, the share of black households that owned their own home remained virtually unchanged between 1968 (41.1 percent) and today (41.2 percent). Over the same period, homeownership for white households increased 5.2 percentage points to 71.1 percent, about 30 percentage points higher than the ownership rate for black households. (4)

It is pretty extraordinary that the homeownership rate for African Americans has not really gone up, given all of the resources that were directed to increasing it. The FHA, Fannie, Freddie and other government programs have all focused on increasing that rate for decades. People of different political stripes will read what they want into this state of affairs. My own take is that wage instability has driven down homeownership rates across the board, but that it has hit African American households particularly hard. Households cannot commit to homeownership if they cannot reasonably depend on getting their wages month-in, month-out.

Understanding The Ability To Repay Rule

photo by http://401kcalculator.org

The Spring 2017 edition of the Consumer Financial Bureau’s Supervisory Highlights contains “Observations and approach to compliance with the Ability to Repay (ATR) rule requirements. The ability to repay rule is intended to keep lenders from making and borrowers from taking on unsustainable mortgages, mortgages with payments that borrowers cannot reliably make.  By way of background,

Prior to the mortgage crisis, some creditors offered consumers mortgages without considering the consumer’s ability to repay the loan, at times engaging in the loose underwriting practice of failing to verify the consumer’s debts or income. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) amended the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) to provide that no creditor may make a residential mortgage loan unless the creditor makes a reasonable and good faith determination based on verified and documented information that, at the time the loan is consummated, the consumer has a reasonable ability to repay the loan according to its terms, as well as all applicable taxes, insurance (including mortgage guarantee insurance), and assessments. The Dodd-Frank Act also amended TILA by creating a presumption of compliance with these ability-to-repay (ATR) requirements for creditors originating a specific category of loans called “qualified mortgage” (QM) loans. (3-4, footnotes omitted)

Fundamentally, the Bureau seeks to determine “whether a creditor’s ATR determination is reasonable and in good faith by reviewing relevant lending policies and procedures and a sample of loan files and assessing the facts and circumstances of each extension of credit in the sample.” (4)

The ability to repay analysis does not focus solely on income, it also looks at assets that are available to repay the mortgage:

a creditor may base its determination of ability to repay on current or reasonably expected income from employment or other sources, assets other than the dwelling (and any attached real property) that secures the covered transaction, or both. The income and/or assets relied upon must be verified. In situations where a creditor makes an ATR determination that relies on assets and not income, CFPB examiners would evaluate whether the creditor reasonably and in good faith determined that the consumer’s verified assets suffice to establish the consumer’s ability to repay the loan according to its terms, in light of the creditor’s consideration of other required ATR factors, including: the consumer’s mortgage payment(s) on the covered transaction, monthly payments on any simultaneous loan that the creditor knows or has reason to know will be made, monthly mortgage-related obligations, other monthly debt obligations, alimony and child support, monthly DTI ratio or residual income, and credit history. In considering these factors, a creditor relying on assets and not income could, for example, assume income is zero and properly determine that no income is necessary to make a reasonable determination of the consumer’s ability to repay the loan in light of the consumer’s verified assets. (6-7)

That being said, the Bureau reiterates that “a down payment cannot be treated as an asset for purposes of considering the consumer’s income or assets under the ATR rule.” (7)

The ability to repay rule protects lenders and borrowers from themselves. While some argue that this is paternalistic, we do not need to go much farther back than the early 2000s to find an era where so-called “equity-based” lending pushed many people on fixed incomes into default and foreclosure.

Who Qualifies as a First-Time Homebuyer?

NewHomeSource quoted me in Who Qualifies as a First-Time Homebuyer? It opens,

You don’t always have to be a first-time homebuyer to qualify for down payment assistance programs.

As you consider purchasing a home, you may have come across down payment assistance programs that aim to assist first-time homebuyers.

“How can I qualify?” you might have asked yourself.

It turns out, you don’t always have to be a first-time homebuyer to qualify, even though it might say otherwise in the name.

“Freddie Mac defines ‘first-time homebuyers’ for its Home Possible program as someone who had ‘no ownership interest (sole or joint) in a residential property during the three-year period preceding the date of the purchase of the mortgage premises,’” says David Reiss, professor of law and research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at the Brooklyn Law School.

Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored home loan mortgage corporation, says that its Home Possible mortgages offer low down payments for low- to moderate-income homebuyers or buyers in high-cost or underserved communities.

Another federal mortgage association, Fannie Mae, also offers down payment assistance programs for first-time homebuyers.

“The Fannie Mae standard 97% LTV Options let first-time homebuyers put down 3 percent,” says Reiss. “The program defines a first-time homebuyer as someone who ‘had no ownership interest (sole or joint) in a residential property during the three-year period preceding the date of purchase of the security property.’”

Similarly, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a first-time homebuyer as an individual who has had no ownership in a principal residence three years prior to the closing date of the property.

Not a first-time homebuyer under these definitions? There’s hope for you still.

“Given the overwhelming dominance that the FHA, Fannie and Freddie have on the mortgage market, homebuyers who have sat out of the housing market for a while may find that they qualify for first-time homebuyer programs even if they have owned a home before,” adds Reiss.

Additionally, there are also assistance programs available for “displaced homemakers.” A displaced homemaker generally meets the following qualifications:

  • Provided unpaid services to family members in the home, such as a stay-at-home parent,
  • Were given financial assistance from another family member, but are no longer supported by that income and
  • Are unemployed/underemployed with difficulty gaining employment or upgraded pay.

“A displaced homemaker or single parent will also be considered a first-time homebuyer if he or she had no ownership interest in a principal residence (other than a joint ownership interest with a spouse) during the preceding three-year time period,” Reiss says.

Walkers in the City

photo by Derrick Coetzee

The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at The George Washington School of Business has released Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros for 2016. The Executive Summary opens,

The end of sprawl is in sight. The nation’s largest metropolitan areas are focusing on building walkable urban development.

For perhaps the first time in 60 years, walkable urban places (WalkUPs) in all 30 of the largest metros are gaining market share over their drivable sub-urban competition—and showing substantially higher rental premiums.

This research shows that metros with the highest levels of walkable urbanism are also the most educated and wealthy (as measured by GDP per capita)— and, surprisingly, the most socially equitable. (4)

This strikes me as a somewhat over-optimistic take on sprawl, but I certainly welcome the increase in walkable urban places over a broad swath of metropolitan areas. The report’s specific findings are that

There are 619 regionally significant, walkable urban places—referred to as WalkUPs—in the 30 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. These 30 metros represent 46 percent of the national population (145 million of the 314 million national population) and 54 percent of the national GDP.

The 30 metros are ranked on the current percentage of occupied walkable urban office, retail, and multi-family rental square feet in their WalkUPs, compared to the balance of occupied square footage in the metro area. The six metros with the most walkable urban space in WalkUPs are, in rank order, New York City, Washington, DC, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Economic Performance: There are substantial and growing rental rate premiums for walkable urban office (90 percent), retail (71 percent), and rental multi-family (66 percent) over drivable sub-urban products. Combined, these three product types have a 74 percent rental premium over drivable sub-urban.

Walkable urban market share growth in office and multi-family rental has increased in all 30 of the largest metros between 2010-2015, while drivable sub-urban locations have lost market share. The market share growth for 27 of the 30 metros is two times their market share in 2010. This is of the same or greater magnitude as the market share gains of drivable sub-urban development during its boom years in the 1980s, but in the reverse direction.

Indicators of potential future WalkUP performance show that many of the metros ranked highest for current walkable urbanism are also found at the top of our Development Momentum Ranking—namely, the metros of New York City, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, DC. This indicates that these metros will continue to build on their already high WalkUP market shares and rent premiums.

There are also some surprising metros in this top tier of Development Momentum rankings, including Detroit, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

The most walkable urban metro areas have a substantially greater educated workforce, as measured by college graduates over 25 years of age, and substantially higher GDP per capita. These relationships are correlations, and determining the causal relationships requires further research to prove.

Walkable urban development describes trends resulting from both revitalization of the central city and urbanization of the suburbs. For nearly all metros, the future urbanization of the suburbs holds the greatest opportunity; metro Washington, DC, serves as a model, splitting its WalkUPs relatively evenly between its central city (53 percent) and its suburbs (47 percent).

Social Equity Performance: The national concern about social equity has been exacerbated by the very rent premiums highlighted above, referred to as gentrification. Counter-intuitively, measurement of moderate-income household (80 percent of AMI) spending on housing and transportation, as well as access to employment, shows that the most walkable urban metros are also the most socially equitable. The reason for this is that low cost transportation costs and better access to employment offset the higher costs of housing. This finding underscores for the need for continued, and aggressive, development of attainable housing solutions. (4, footnote omitted)

There is a lot of import here. Is there more than a correlation between walkability and the educational level of the workforce and, if so, why? Why don’t more housing affordability studies take into account transportation costs when evaluating the affordability of a given community? What is the trend line of this new direction toward urbanism and how far can it go in the face of decades of investment in car-based communities? This annual study will help us answer those questions, over time.

Mommy, I’m Home!

cartoon by Mell Lazarus

The Pew Research Center has released For First Time in Modern Era, Living with Parents Edges out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds (link for complete report on right side of page). This report adds to the growing literature on changes in household formation (see here, for instance) that have taken hold in large part since the financial crisis. There are lots of reasons to think that the way we live now is different from how we lived one generation, two generations, three generations ago.

The report opens,

Broad demographic shifts in marital status, educational attainment and employment have transformed the way young adults in the U.S. are living, and a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data highlights the implications of these changes for the most basic element of their lives – where they call home. In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.

This turn of events is fueled primarily by the dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who are choosing to settle down romantically before age 35. Dating back to 1880, the most common living arrangement among young adults has been living with a romantic partner, whether a spouse or a significant other. This type of arrangement peaked around 1960, when 62% of the nation’s 18- to 34-year-olds were living with a spouse or partner in their own household, and only one-in-five were living with their parents. (4, footnotes omitted)

The report found that education, race and ethnicity was linked to young adult living arrangements. Less educated young adults were more likely to live with a parent as were black and Hispanic young adults. Some of the other key findings include,

  • The growing tendency of young adults to live with parents predates the Great Recession. In 1960, 20% of 18- to 34-year-olds lived with mom and/or dad. In 2007, before the recession, 28% lived in their parental home.
  • In 2014, 40% of 18- to 34-year-olds who had not completed high school lived with parent(s), the highest rate observed since the 1940 Census when information on educational attainment was first collected.
  • Young adults in states in the South Atlantic, West South Central and Pacific United States have recently experienced the highest rates on record of living with parent(s).
  • With few exceptions, since 1880 young men across all races and ethnicities have been more likely than young women to live in the home of their parent(s).
  • The changing demographic characteristics of young adults—age, racial and ethnic diversity, rising college enrollment—explain little of the increase in living with parent(s) (8-9)

It seems like unemployment and underemployment; student debt; and postponement or retreat from the institution of marriage all play a role in delaying young adult household formation.

My own idiosyncratic takeaway from the report is that, boy, the way we live now sure is different from how earlier generations lived (look at the graph on page 4 to see what I mean). Moreover, there is no reason to think that one way is more “natural” or better than the other. That being said, it sure is worth figuring out what we are doing now in order to craft policies to properly respond to it.

Housing Policy and Economic Mobility

Pamela Blumenthal

Pamela Blumenthal

John McGinty

John McGinty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pamela Blumenthal and John McGinty of the Urban Institute have written an interesting research report, Housing Policy Levers to Promote Economic Mobility. I generally believe that housing policy should be designed to assist low- and moderate-income households live in safe, decent and affordable housing, but I rarely consider how housing policy can actually help low- and moderate-income households become upwardly mobile. This report does just that and concludes,

At a time of growing income and wealth inequality, economic mobility provides a frame through which to consider the potential of housing policy to change the trajectories of individuals and communities. Economic mobility is about the opportunities individuals have to improve their economic well-being and requires education and other skill acquisition, available jobs, transportation networks, and other resources. Stable housing with access to those components gives low-income and minority individuals and families a chance to climb out of poverty. The current structures too often constrain individual choice because families cannot find affordable housing near a good school or in a safe neighborhood.

National policies that enforce fair housing, more fairly distribute tax benefits, and invest in people and places that have long suffered from disinvestment can begin to change the trajectory. State policies that fund affordable housing production and preservation in location-efficient areas and create requirements or incentives for local jurisdictions to integrate affordable housing throughout the community can also help.

To truly move the needle in promoting upward mobility, however, housing policy may need to adopt a lens through which programs are adopted, implemented, and evaluated based on their ability to promote upward mobility. Just as initial concerns about housing quality in the 1930s gave way to a focus on affordability in federal housing policy, another transition may be occurring. This goes beyond recognizing that a stable, safe, affordable home is critical to healthy development and well-being, to addressing the important role that neighborhood context plays—particularly for children. The importance of enabling all families to live in neighborhoods where they have access to jobs, good schools, parks, and other community resources and are free from violence, toxins, noise, and other harmful environments may become future federal housing policy. (41)

I don’t think that there is anything earth-shattering in this report, but it does focus attention on housing policy in a fruitful way.