Subprime v. Non-Prime

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The Kroll Bond Rating Agency has issued an RMBS Research report, Credit Evolution: Non-Prime Isn’t Yesterday’s Subprime. It opens,

Following the private label RMBS market’s peak in 2007 and the ensuing credit crisis, non-agency securitizations of newly originated collateral have focused almost exclusively on prime jumbo loans. This is not surprising given the poor performance of loosely underwritten residential mortgage loans that characterized certain vintages leading up to the crisis. While legacy prime, in absolute terms, performed better than Alt-A and subprime collateral, it was apparent that origination practices had a significant impact on subsequent loan performance across product types.

Many consumers were caught in the ensuing waves of defaults, which marred their borrowing records in a manner that has either barred them from accessing housing credit, or at best made it extremely challenging to obtain a home loan. Others that managed to meet their obligations have been unable to qualify for new loans in the post-crisis era due to tighter credit standards that have been influenced by regulation.

The private label securitization market has not met the needs of these consumers for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, reputational concerns in the aftermath of the crisis, regulatory costs, investor appetite, and the time needed for borrowers to repair their credit. The tide appears to be turning quickly, however, and Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) has observed the re-emergence of more than a dozen non-prime mortgage origination programs that intend to use securitization as a funding source. Of these, KBRA is aware of at least four securitization sponsors that have accessed the PLS market across nine issuances, two of which include rated offerings.

Thus far, KBRA has observed that today’s non-prime programs are not a simple rebranding of pre-crisis subprime origination, nor do they signal a return to the documentation excesses associated with “liar loans”. While the asset class is meant to serve those with less pristine credit, and can even have characteristics reminiscent of legacy Alt-A, it is expansive, and underwriting practices have been heavily influenced by today’s consumer-focused regulatory environment and government-sponsored entity (GSE) origination guidelines. In evaluating these new non-prime programs, KBRA believes market participants should consider the following factors:

■ Loans originated under sound compliance with Ability-To-Repay (ATR) rules should outperform 2005-2007 vintage loans with similar credit parameters, including LTV and borrower FICO scores. The ATR rules have resulted in strengthened underwriting, which should bode well for originations across the MBS space. This is particularly true of non-prime loans, where differences in origination practices can have a greater influence on future loan performance.

■ Loans that fail to adhere to GSE guidelines regarding the seasoning of credit dispositions (e.g. bankruptcy, foreclosure, etc.) on a borrower’s credit history should be viewed as having increased credit risk relative to those with similar credit profiles that lack recent disposition activity. This relationship likely depends on, among other things, equity position, current FICO score, and the likelihood that any life events relating to the prior credit issue remain unresolved.

■ Alternative documentation programs need to viewed with skepticism as they relate to the ATR rules, particularly those that serve borrowers with sub-prime credit histories. Although many programs will meet technical requirements for income verification, it is also important to demonstrate good faith in determining a borrower’s ability-to-repay. Failure to do so may not only result in poor credit performance, but increased risk of assignee liability.

■ Investor programs underwritten with reliance on expected rental income and limited documentation may pose more risk relative to fully documented investor loans where the borrower’s income and debt profile are considered, all else equal. (1, footnotes omitted)

I think KBRS is documenting a positive trend: looser credit for those with less-than-prime credit is overdue. I also think that KBRS’ concerns about the development of the non-prime market should be heeded — ensuring that borrowers have the ability to repay their mortgages should be job No. 1 for originators (although it seems ridiculous that one would have to say that). We want a mortgage market that serves everyone who is capable of making their mortgage payments for the long term. These developments in the non-prime market are most welcome and a bit overdue.

Preserving Low-Income Housing

NYC Mayor De Blasio announced an aggressive goal of producing and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years. New York City will need to be as creative as possible to achieve this goal and will need to look to all of the resources that it has at its disposal to achieve it. Enterprise Community Partners released Preserving Housing Credit Investment: The State of Housing Credit Properties and Lessons Learned for the Extended Use Period. This report looks at important component of a preservation agenda: Low-Income Housing Tax Credit buildings that “reach the end of their initial 15-year compliance period.” (4) The report presents data about LIHTC buildings during the 15-year “extended use period” that follow the compliance period

and shares how some state and local housing agencies around the country are addressing the post-Year 15 Housing Credit properties. While the condition of the Housing Credit portfolio at Year 15 is strong, as properties age into a second 15-year period of rent restrictions and beyond, the ability for some of those properties to be able to afford to make improvements while maintaining affordability is clearly a challenge. Some of these local best practices point to solutions demonstrating programmatic and regulatory flexibility, new resources as well as resyndication where appropriate. (4)

Across the nation, roughly 100,000 units of housing age out of the initial compliance period each year, so we are talking about a lot of housing.  New York has a significant portion of that housing stock. While these properties are in pretty good condition overall, the report found that

very limited financing choices exist throughout the extended use period for properties with modest recapitalization or capital improvement needs. Currently, the best choice seems to be a resyndication with a new Housing Credit allocation. However, the use of Housing Credits to preserve and extend the affordability of existing affordable housing competes with other Housing Credit properties, including public housing revitalization and new projects (both as adaptive reuse of existing buildings and new construction). The Housing Credit was created to address affordable housing needs that the private market could not effectively serve. It incentivized a public-private partnership that includes affordability for 30 years. In order to preserve this inventory, more investment will be required. Ensuring the physical and economic stability of these assets through their extended use periods will require innovative uses of limited public subsidy by states and municipalities. (5)

New York City will certainly want to plan for the modest recapitalization of its LIHTC properties as part of its affordable housing strategy. And it will be better to plan for it now than pay too much for deferred maintenance down the line.