(Original Purchases in Levittown Funded in Large Part by FHA Mortgages)
Law360 quoted me in New Guidelines For Bad FHA Loans Won’t Boost Lending (behind paywall). It opens,
The federal government on Thursday provided lenders with a streamlined framework for how it determines whether the Federal Housing Administration must be paid for a loan gone bad, but experts say the new framework will have limited effect because it failed to alleviate the threat of a Justice Department lawsuit.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided lenders with what it called a “defect taxonomy” that it will use to determine when a lender will have to indemnify the FHA, which essentially provides insurance for mortgages taken out by first-time and low-income borrowers, for bad loans. The new framework whittled down the number of categories the FHA would review when making its decisions on loans and highlighted how it would measure the severity of those defects.
All of this was done in a bid to increase transparency and boost a sagging home loan sector. However, HUD was careful to state that its new default taxonomy does not have any bearing on potential civil or administrative liability a lender may face for making bad loans.
And because of that, lenders will still be skittish about issuing new mortgages, said Jeffrey Naimon, a partner with BuckleySandler LLP.
“What this expressly doesn’t address is what is likely the single most important thing in housing policy right now, which is how the Department of Justice is going to handle these issues,” he said.
The U.S. housing market has been slow to recover since the 2008 financial crisis due to a combination of economics, regulatory changes and, according to the industry, the threat of litigation over questionable loans from the Justice Department, the FHA and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
In recent years, the Justice Department has reached settlements reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars with banks and other lenders over bad loans backed by the government using the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act.
The most recent settlement came in February when MetLife Inc. agreed to a $123.5 million deal.
In April, Quicken Loans Inc. filed a preemptive suit alleging that the Justice Department and HUD were pressuring the lender to admit to faulty lending practices that they did not commit. The Justice Department sued Quicken soon after.
Policymakers at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which serves as the conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and HUD have attempted to ease lenders’ fears that they will force lenders to buy back bad loans or otherwise indemnify the programs.
HUD on Thursday said that its new single-family loan quality assessment methodology — the so-called defect taxonomy — would do just that by slimming down the categories it uses to categorize mortgage defects from 99 to nine and establishing a system for categorizing the severity of those defects.
Among the nine categories that will be included in HUD’s review of loans are measures of borrowers’ income, assets and credit histories as well as loan-to-value ratios and maximum mortgage amounts.
Providing greater insight into FHA’s thinking is intended to make lending easier, Edward Golding, HUD’s principal deputy assistant secretary for housing, said in a statement.
“By enhancing our approach, lenders will have more confidence in how they interact with FHA and, we anticipate, will be more willing to lend to future homeowners who are ready to own,” he said.
However, what the new guidelines do not do is address the potential risk for lenders from the Justice Department.
“This taxonomy is not a comprehensive statement on all compliance monitoring or enforcement efforts by FHA or the federal government and does not establish standards for administrative or civil enforcement action, which are set forth in separate law. Nor does it address FHA’s response to patterns and practice of loan-level defects, or FHA’s plans to address fraud or misrepresentation in connection with any FHA-insured loan,” the FHA’s statement said.
And that could blunt the overall benefits of the new guidelines, said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.
“To the extent it helps people make better decisions, it will help them reduce their exposure. But it is not any kind of bulletproof vest,” he said.