By Lindsey Johnson, President of USMI
As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important to remember why the mortgage and housing finance systems need to focus on Black homeownership. Owning a home helps to increase financial security, enhance family and community stability, and build intergenerational wealth. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Black and Hispanic homeownership rates stand at 43 and 48 percent, respectively, compared to 74 percent for white households. Many have noted that this racial gap has alarmingly increased even after the Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968, when explicit racial discrimination was legal. While the industry has focused on ways to decrease this racial gap, more needs to be done.
To better identify and highlight the greatest homebuying challenges for today’s borrowers, U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) conducted a national survey last June. The National Homeownership Market Survey found that Black respondents are more likely to perceive greater challenges during the homebuying process, with credit scores, existing debt, and the inability to afford a down payment identified as the main obstacles. Nearly 60 percent of Black respondents said they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and are more likely to worry about making housing payments. Meanwhile, white respondents are three times more likely to say there are no barriers to homeownership.
In addition, nearly 70 percent of all survey respondents said that the lack of affordable housing was the top homebuying challenge. As home prices continue to soar while available inventory remains limited, stress surrounding the desire to purchase a home among minorities is likely to rise. According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) House Price Index, house prices rose 17.5 percent in 2021. Further, the National Association of REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey found that first-time homebuyers’ share of the market fell to 26 percent, and nearly 1 million renter households were priced out due to rising home prices.
The persistent racial gap needs to be addressed and we should work to speed up efforts to put sustainable homebuying within reach for more Americans. Fortunately, this challenge has the attention of housing and mortgage finance experts and policymakers, including FHFA Acting Director Sandra Thompson. As the conservator of the government-sponsored enterprises’ (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, FHFA released a Request for Input (RFI) on Equitable Housing Finance Plans and included equitable housing as a pillar in its draft 2022-2026 Strategic Plan.
In its RFI, FHFA articulated a framework by which the GSEs will be required to prepare and implement three-year plans to advance equity in housing finance. FHFA’s actions are commendable, but the details on how to address access to homeownership matter. This is why USMI urged FHFA to use data-driven, targeted approaches to reduce barriers to affordable mortgages for minority households.
The issues facing minority and other underserved borrowers are complex, multi-faceted, and vary by geography. Addressing them means being very specific about identifying the borrowers being served, their specific issues, and target outcomes. Further, there should be consistency in how the government and GSEs approach initiatives related to access to home financing. These initiatives should aim to increase sustainable access to credit for borrowers that need assistance the most, while also reducing credit risk. Whether it’s FHA or FHFA, policies should also aim to not stoke additional demand into the marketplace, further driving up prices, which acutely impacts low- and moderate-income borrowers.
A few key areas that the housing industry and policymakers should focus on are: 1) affordable housing production; 2) financial and homeownership education and outreach; and 3) a holistic review of GSE pricing, including reexamining 2008-era Loan-level price adjustments (LLPAs), which disproportionately impact minority borrowers.
Lastly, there should be greater transparency around the GSEs’ credit policies, underwriting technologies, and performance in key areas, most notably access to credit for minority households. The data and other factors that contribute to decisions that impact the GSE credit box should be publicly available to better inform policies and mortgage products around access to credit. Increased transparency will encourage greater collaboration among policymakers and industry participants and promote policies that can bring a balance between supply, demand, and affordability.
Minority homebuyers represent those who will increase the rate of homeownership in America in the coming decades. As an industry that exclusively serves homebuyers with limited access to funds for large down payments, we believe the issues and challenges facing these borrowers today will require significant collaboration to ensure they have access to sustainable, affordable financing.
This piece was first published in The Hill on February 25, 2022.