Law360 quoted me in With Lessons Learned, FHFA Lets Mortgage Giants Ease Credit (behind a paywall). It reads in part,
The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s plan to boost mortgage lending by allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase loans with 3 percent down payments may stir housing bubble memories, but experts say better underwriting standards and other protections should prevent the worst subprime lending practices from returning.
FHFA Director Mel Watt on Monday said that his agency would lower the down payment requirement for borrowers to receive the government-sponsored enterprises’ support in a bid to get more first-time and lower-income borrowers access to mortgage credit and into their own homes.
However, unlike the experience of the housing bubble years — where subprime lenders engaged in shoddy and in some cases fraudulent underwriting practices and borrowers took on more home than they could afford — the lower down payment requirements would be accompanied by tighter underwriting and risk-sharing standards, Watt said.
“Through these revised guidelines, we believe that the enterprises will be able to responsibly serve a targeted segment of creditworthy borrowers with lower down payment mortgages by taking into account ‘compensating factors,’” Watt said at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, according to prepared remarks.
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The realities of the modern mortgage market, and the new rules that are overseeing it, should prevent the lower down payment requirements from leading to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and by extension taxpayers taking on undue risk, Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss said.
Tighter underwriting requirements such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s qualified mortgage standard and ability to repay rules have made it less likely that people are taking on loans that they cannot afford, he said.
Prior to the crisis, many subprime mortgages had the toxic mix of low credit scores, low down payments and low documentation of the ability to repay, Reiss said.
“If you don’t have too many of those characteristics, there is evidence that loans are sustainable” even with a lower down payment, he said.
The FHFA is also pushing for private actors to take on more mortgage credit risk as a way to shrink Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There is a very good chance that private mortgage insurers could step in to take on the additional risks to the system from lower down payments, rather than taxpayers, Platt said.
“You’ll need a mortgage insurer to agree to those lower down payment requirements because they’re going to have to bear the risk of that loss,” he said.
The 97 percent loan-to-value ratio that the FHFA will allow for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backing is not significantly higher than the 95 percent that is currently in place, Platt said.
Having the additional risk fall to insurers could mean that the system can handle that additional risk, particularly with the FHFA looking to increase capital requirements for mortgage insurers, Reiss said.
“It could be that the whole system is capitalized enough to take this risk,” he said.