Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 11, 2014

What Should the 21st Century Mortgage Market Look Like?

By David Reiss

Treasury is requesting Public Input on Development of Responsible Private Label Securities (PLS) Market.  Comments are due on August 8, 2014. The request for information wants input on the following questions:

1. What is the appropriate role for new issue PLS in the current and future housing finance system? What is the appropriate interaction between the guaranteed and non-guaranteed market segments? Are there particular segments of the mortgage market where PLS can or should be most active and competitive in providing a channel for funding mortgage credit?

2. What are the key obstacles to the growth of the PLS market? How would you address these obstacles? What are the existing market failures? What are necessary conditions for securitizers and investors to return at scale?

3. How should new issue PLS support safe and sound market practices?

4. What are the costs and benefits of various methods of investor protection? In particular, please address the costs and benefits of requiring the trustee to have a fiduciary duty to investors or requiring an independent collateral manager to oversee issuances?

5. What is the appropriate or necessary role for private industry participants to address the factors cited in your answer to Question #2? What can private market participants undertake either as part of industry groups or independently?

6. What is the appropriate or necessary role for government in addressing the key factors cited in your answer to Question #2? What actions could government agencies take? Are there actions that require legislation?

7. What are the current pricing characteristics of PLS issuance (both on a standalone basis and relative to other mortgage finance channels)? How might the pricing characteristics change should key challenges be addressed? What is the current and potential demand from investors should key challenges be addressed?

8. Why have we seen strong issuance and investor demand for other types of asset-backed securitizations (e.g., securitizations of commercial real estate, leveraged loans, and auto loans) but not residential mortgages? Do these or other asset classes offer insights that can help inform the development of market practices and standards in the new issue PLS market?

These are all important questions that go way beyond Treasury’s portfolio and touch on those of the FHFA, the FHA and the CFPB to name a few. Nonetheless, it is important that Treasury is framing the issue so broadly because it gets to the 10 Trillion Dollar Question:  Who Should Be Providing Mortgage Credit to American Households?

Some clearly believe that the federal government is the only entity that can do so in a stable way and certainly history is on their side.  Since the Great Depression,when the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae were created, the federal government has had a central role in the housing finance market.

Others (including me) believe that private capital can, and should, take a bigger role in the provision of mortgage finance. There is some question as to how much capacity private capital has, given the size of the residential mortgage market (more than ten trillion dollars). But there is no doubt that it can do more than the measly ten percent share or so of new mortgages that it has been originating in recent years.

Treasury should think big here and ask — what do we want our mortgage finance to look like for the next eight or nine decades? Our last system lasted for that long, so our next one might too. The issue cannot be decided by empirical means alone. There is an ideological component to it. I am in favor of a system in which private capital (albeit heavily-regulated private capital) should be put at risk for a large swath of residential mortgages and the taxpayer should only be on the hook for major liquidity crises.

I also favor a significant role for government through the FHA which would still create a market for first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate-income borrowers. But otherwise, we would look to private capital to price risk and fund mortgages to the extent that it can do so.  Round out the system with strong consumer protection regulation from the CFPB, and you have a system that may last through the end of the 21st century.

Comments are due August 8th, so make your views known too!

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