Treasury’s Take on Housing Finance Reform

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Being Sworn In

The Department of the Treasury released its Strategic Plan for 2018-2022. One of its 17 Strategic Objectives is to promote housing finance reform:

Support housing finance reform to resolve Government-Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) conservatorships and prevent taxpayer bailouts of public and private mortgage finance entities, while promoting consumer choice within the mortgage market.

Desired Outcomes

Increased share of mortgage credit supported by private capital; Resolution of GSE conservatorships; Appropriate level of sustainable homeownership.

Why Does This Matter?

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in federal conservatorship for nine years. Taxpayers continue to stand behind their obligations through capital support agreements while there is no clear path for the resolution of their conservatorship. The GSEs, combined with federal housing programs such as those at the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, support more than 70 percent of new mortgage originations. Changes should encourage the entry of greater private capital in the U.S. housing finance system. Resolution of the GSE conservatorships and right-sizing of federal housing programs is necessary to support a more sustainable U.S. housing finance system. (16)

The Plan states that Treasury’s strategies to achieve these objectives are to engage “stakeholders to develop housing finance reform recommendations.” (17) These stakeholders include Congress, the FHFA, Fed, SEC, CFPB, FDIC, HUD (including the FHA), VA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Association of State Banking Regulators as well as “The Public.” Treasury further intends to disseminate “principles and recommendations for housing finance reform” and plan “for the resolution of current GSE conservatorships.” (Id.)

This is all to the good of course, but it is at such a high level of generality that it tells us next to nothing. In this regard, Trump’s Treasury is not all that different from Obama and George W. Bush’s. Treasury has not taken a lead on housing finance reform since the financial crisis began. While there is nothing wrong with letting Congress take the lead on this issue, it would move things forward if Treasury created an environment in which housing finance reform was clearly identified as a priority in Washington. Nothing good will come from letting Fannie and Freddie limp along in conservatorship for a decade or more.

The Fate of the CFPB

photo by Lawrence Jackson

President Obama Nominating Richard Cordray to Lead Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with Elizabeth Warren

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision in PHH Corporation v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, No. 15-1177 (October 11, 2016), that found an important aspect of the structure of the CFPB to be unconstitutional:  the insulation of the Director from Presidential supervision. While this decision will almost certainly be appealed, even if it is upheld, it will allow the the CFPB to continue functioning much as it has.

I was interviewed about the decision on NPR’s All Things Considered in a segment titled, Appeals Court Orders Restructuring Of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (audio available). The transcript reads,

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A federal appeals court has mandated big changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The three-judge panel says the consumer watchdog agency is set up in a way that’s unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court says the agency will have to restructure. NPR’s Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The suit was brought by a mortgage lender called PHH, which asked the court to invalidate a $109 million enforcement action against it and scrap the agency, too. The D.C. Court of Appeals sent the fine back to the bureau for review.

But it also ruled that the CFPB’s director has too much power to write and enforce rules without enough oversight from another branch of government. The remedy, the panel says, is that the CFPB should fall under the president’s control. And the president should be able to remove the director at will.

The CFPB’s opponents in the financial services industry declared victory. Bill Himpler is executive vice president for the American Financial Services Association.

BILL HIMPLER: Our issue is still with the authority given to a single director. That is, as the court pointed out, not subject to a lot of oversight.

NOGUCHI: Himpler instead supports a CFPB run by a bipartisan commission, similar to others like the Securities and Exchange Commission. David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, says the ruling is not an existential challenge to the CFPB or its past decisions.

DAVID REISS: The decision does not invalidate the CFPB’s actions. This is more about its structure going forward.

NOGUCHI: Reiss says an appeal to the Supreme Court is all but guaranteed. Indeed, the CFPB says it disagrees with the conclusion. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson says the ruling does not change its mission and that it is, quote, “considering options for seeking further review of the court’s decision.”

Dennis Kelleher is CEO of Better Markets, a group that advocates for stronger financial regulation. He says the bureau’s actions on banks have made the financial sector more determined to undercut the agency.

DENNIS KELLEHER: They do not want a consumer watchdog on the Wall Street beat. That’s what this fight is about.

NOGUCHI: The decision was not unanimous on all the issues. Judge Karen Henderson dissented in part, saying the panel overreached in calling the bureau’s structure unconstitutional. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

 

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

  • BNY Mellon files a brief on writ for cert with the Supreme Court warning the potential for “warping” the residential mortgage-backed securities market if it overturns the Second Circuit’s decision finding that provisions of the Trust Indenture Act did not apply to the securities at issue.
  • Investors of Citibank file a class action in NY state court claiming that Citibank ignored toxic residential mortgage-backed securities causing $2.3 billion in losses.
  • Investors sue RAIT Financial Trust and its trustees alleging that the trust knew about subsidiary pocketing fees leading to a $21.5 million SEC settlement.

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup