Newsletter: February 2021

2021 is off to a quick start as the Biden administration has made housing policy a key focus during its first month in office. U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) is ready to work with the new administration and Congress to advance sound housing policies that create a more equitable and sustainable housing finance system. Below are some of the key developments from the beginning of the year:

USMI Publishes Op-Ed in The Hill on Housing Affordability
USMI Co-Signs Letter with Diverse Collation to Biden Administration on Housing Recovery
President Biden Signs Executive Order on Housing Equity
USMI Sends Letter to HUD Secretary-Designee Marcia Fudge
USMI Publishes Blog on the New Congress
What We Are Reading

  • USMI Publishes Op-Ed in The Hill on Housing Affordability. On January 31, The Hill published an op-ed by USMI President Lindsey Johnson titled, “We must increase access to affordable mortgages for minority borrowers.” Johnson outlines ways the housing finance system can use data-driven, targeted approaches to reduce barriers to affordable mortgages for Black and Hispanic households. She notes that while COVID-19 has compounded existing racial and economic gaps, there are several long-term issues that unnecessarily increase costs or create barriers for minority borrowers seeking to become homeowners. Impending changes like the recently finalized capital requirements for the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, could further stress mortgage affordability; while current policies like the GSEs’ arbitrary loan-level price adjustments (LLPAs) further drive up costs and push homeownership out of reach.

    Johnson called on policymakers to recognize the critical role of low down payment mortgage options in facilitating homeownership, noting that more than 80 percent of first-time homebuyers used these options in the past several years. She also called for more targeted assistance programs for borrowers who may lack intergenerational wealth or equity from a previous home to contribute to a down payment, and highlighted Rep. Al Lawson’s (D-FL) First-Time Homeowners Assistance Act and President Biden’s interest in a first-time homebuyer tax credit. Johnson also recommends that the Biden administration assemble a housing affordability task force that “includes broad representation from industry, consumer advocate community, and government to formulate an action plan, build consensus, and get to work.”
  • USMI Co-Signs Letter with Diverse Collation to Biden Administration on Housing Recovery. On January 21, USMI joined the Black Homeownership Collaborative, along with more than 30 industry stakeholders, on a letter to the Biden administration requesting that the American Rescue Plan include assistance to homeowners impacted by COVID-19. The group noted the growing risk to homeownership caused by the pandemic, which has profound implications for people of color, adding that “our country cannot afford to see more damage done to minority homeowners.”

    Specifically, the signatories urged President Biden to include in his relief proposal to Congress a $25 billion Housing Assistance Fund, modeled on the 2010 Hardest Hit Fund, to facilitate direct assistance to homeowners. The direct assistance would provide funds to state housing finance agencies to help households experiencing COVID-19 related hardship bring their mortgage loans current. The letter also called on the Biden administration to extend the foreclosure moratorium and continue to process forbearance applications on federally-backed mortgages.

    The National Housing Conference (NHC), National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, were among the letter’s signatories.
  • President Biden Signs Executive Order on Housing Equity. On January 26, President Biden issued an executive order titled, “Memorandum on Redressing Our Nation’s and the Federal Government’s History of Discriminatory Housing Practices and Policies.” The order highlighted that throughout the 20th century, the U.S. government “systematically implemented racially discriminatory housing policies,” the effects of which can be seen today in the racial homeownership gap and the systemic barriers to safe, accessible, and affordable housing for traditional marginalized groups, including people of color. The order further called on the federal government to play a critical role “in overcoming and redressing this history of discrimination and in protecting against other forms of discrimination by applying and enforcing Federal civil rights and fair housing laws.” Before signing the executive order, President Biden stressed that his administration will strive to implement policies that embrace equity, and not merely equality, in order to address systemic issues and provide for equal access to the American Dream of homeownership. To this end, President Biden called on the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review several rules enacted in 2020 and ensure that all rules comply with HUD’s statutory duty to further fair housing and prevent practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect.
  • USMI Sends Letter to HUD Secretary-Designee Marcia Fudge. Last week, USMI sent HUD Secretary-designate Fudge a letter, outlining several policies HUD should consider to ensure it is effectively promoting sustainable and affordable diverse homeownership. USMI cautioned against simply lowering credit costs, such as reducing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance premiums, as doing so will likely only increase demand during a time when supply constraints in the market have caused home prices to increase by nearly 12 percent just in the past year. Further, it will push affordability out of reach for many homeowners, especially borrowers on the lower end of the market. As FHA continues to support borrowers through the COVID-19 crisis, it will be important to not take actions that could potentially undermine FHA’s ability to help existing and future borrowers. The letter also called on policymakers to explore targeted policies to support borrowers most in need, such as targeted down payment assistance (DPA) programs for borrowers who may not even have the resources for a 3 or 3.5 percent down payment, and considering establishing reserve accounts to promote sustainable homeownership. USMI noted, “it is more important than ever that the government-backed FHA program and the conventional market backed by private MI operate in a consistent and coordinated manner,” as the two play an important and distinct role in the market and should not compete for market share.

    Meanwhile, the Senate Banking Committee voted 17 to 7 yesterday to approve Honorable Marcia Fudge as HUD Secretary. She now awaits a confirmation vote by the full U.S. Senate.
  • USMI Publishes Blog on New Congress. USMI posted a blog providing an overview of the 117th Congress with insights on new members to the House Financial Services Committee and Senate Banking Committee, as well as priorities for COVID-19 relief and housing policy.
  • What We Are Reading. The Urban Institute published a new report titled, “The Future of Headship and Homeownership,” which examined trends in homeownership in the United States through 2040 based on current housing policies. The report found that the United States will likely see modest declines in homeownership, mostly for Black households, and that decreasing the racial homeownership gap would require expanded financial education, re-examining the mortgage qualification process, and implementing programs that sustain homeownership for borrowers with less wealth, especially people of color.

Newsletter: December 2020

As the end of 2020 approaches, U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) want to recognize and thank everyone who has worked to support homeowners and the U.S. housing finance system during a year full of unprecedented challenges. This past year has also ushered in significant federal regulatory and policy proposals and changes, and below are some of the key developments that we are following late this year. In 2021, USMI looks forward to working with policy makers and others to support a housing finance system that creates homeownership opportunities backed by private capital for more Americans.

FHFA Issues Final Capital Rule
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Testifies Before Congress
House Financial Services Chairwoman Sends Letter to President-Elect Biden
Changes in FHFA Leadership
FHA Issues New Loan Limits and Commissioner Dana Wade Reacts
What We Are Reading

  • FHFA Issues Final Capital Rule. On November 18, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its final rule on the Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF) outlining post-conservatorship capital requirements for the government sponsored entities (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The GSEs will collectively be required to hold $284 billion in capital, representing approximately $20 billion more than was outlined in the 2020 proposed rule and more than $100 billion than the 2018 proposal. FHFA Director Mark Calabria said the ERCF “puts Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on a path toward a sound capital footing” and it is “another milestone necessary for responsibly ending the conservatorships.”  While appropriate capital standards for the GSEs is a critical reform, USMI continues to urge FHFA to implement additional reforms necessary to put the housing finance system on a more stable footing. It is essential for these reforms to occur before the GSEs are released from conservatorship in order to strengthen the housing finance system and ensure that the GSEs’ operations comply with their congressional charters.

    Many organizations commented that the capital rule is an essential component of reforming the nation’s housing finance system, though several housing groups and policymakers also expressed concern about the impact of the final rule on consumers’ cost and access to mortgage finance credit. The Center for Responsible Lending said the final rule “places the burden of future catastrophic risk on the backs of these hardworking families and will unnecessarily raise the cost of mortgages for all borrowers, resulting in limited credit availability.” It added, “the rule pushes homeownership farther away from families of color long denied mortgage credit access.” Similarly, the National Association of REALTORS® also raised concerns about the impact of the rule on the cost of mortgage finance credit. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, wrote in a statement that “the GSEs help millions fulfill the dream of homeownership – especially those living in underserved rural and urban areas. Director Calabria’s rush to finish this rule without addressing concerns raised about its effects is a recipe for disaster and is patently unfair to America’s homeowners and renters.”

    The final rule goes into effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Testifies Before Congress—Fields Questions on Possible GSE Exit from Conservatorship. On December 1 and 2, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified before the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC), respectively. While both hearings focused on the Treasury Department’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and its implementation of the CARES Act programs and relief, Secretary Mnuchin also addressed the GSEs’ possible exit from conservatorship.

    Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed concern regarding an exit from conservatorship for the GSEs. Senator Mike Round (R-SD) noted that in “a perfect world that conservatorship should have been ended some time ago,” but voiced his concern that releasing the GSEs too early would call into question the strength of the housing sector and asked Secretary Mnuchin about an appropriate timeline. Secretary Mnuchin reiterated the importance of the GSEs having “appropriate capital” levels before being released and emphasized that the Treasury Department has made “no decisions” on this matter. The Secretary also fielded similar questions and concerns from lawmakers when he appeared before the HFSC the next day. Among those that raised objections to the GSEs’ exit from conservatorship was HFSC Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who expressed concerns that the Treasury Department is working with the FHFA to “rush” the GSEs out of conservatorship.

    In a December 10 blog post, the American Action Forum (AAF) opined on the parameters of consent orders for the GSEs and the need for additional actions to ringfence Fannie and Freddie.  AAF President Doug Holtz-Eakin wrote, “The GSEs are notorious for sidestepping caps on compensation, lobbying bans, accounting standards, and more. Capital accumulation is the easy part. A really tight leash would require a consent decree specifying in great detail the management and operation of the GSEs, and with sufficient foresight to anticipate the condition that will prevail in future housing and financial markets.”

    In a blog post released in recent weeks, USMI outlined key reforms that should occur, especially ahead of the possible release of the GSEs from conservatorship.
  • House Financial Services Chairwoman Waters Sends Letter to President-Elect Biden. Last week, Chairwoman Waters sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden and his transition team detailing recommendations to immediately reverse several of the actions by the Trump Administration that fall within the HFSC’s jurisdiction, including changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) rulemaking and enforcement activities, as well as enhancements for oversight of Wall Street. Chairwoman Waters also called on President-elect Biden to issue an order preventing evictions and to promote stable housing during the pandemic. Key housing regulations in the letter include FHFA’s Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework, which Chairwoman Waters said should be rescinded and also the CFPB’s General Qualified Mortgage rulemaking, which the Chairwoman recommended be paused until “various options can be thoroughly analyzed examining the potential impact for access to credit and consumer protections.”

    More broadly, Chairwoman Waters called on President-elect Biden to support affordable housing by addressing homelessness, promoting housing affordability, and fair housing regulations. The Chairwoman detailed a full list of policy recommendations for the Biden Administration, which can be found here.
  • Changes in FHFA Leadership. FHFA announced that Principal Deputy Director Adolfo Marzol plans to retire on December 18, 2020. Director Calabria praised Marzol for his work at FHFA, specifically his leadership to “spearhead the Enterprise capital rule” and his “central role in the response to COVID-19.” Chris Bosland, FHFA’s Senior Advisor for Regulation, will succeed Marzol as the Principal Deputy Director.
  • FHA Issues New Loan Limits and Commissioner Dana Wade Reacts. On December 2, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) released its 2021 Nationwide Forward Mortgage Limits. The new national conforming limit is $548,250 for a one-unit property. The FHA’s low-cost area limit for a single unit property will increase to $356,362, or 65% of the new confirming mortgage limit. However, in high-cost areas, the new loan limit is $822,375, or 150% of the 2021 conforming loan limit. This is the fifth year in a row that the FHA has increased the floor limits. FHA Commissioner Dana Wade expressed concern about the increase stating, “FHA has seen consistent increases in loan limits during the past few years, putting it in a position to serve a segment of borrowers that may be better-served by the conventional market.” Wade continued, “FHA’s mission is to support low-to-moderate income borrowers, so why does the law permit FHA to insure mortgages up to $822,375? This is a question for Congress and the taxpayers who stand behind FHA to answer.”
  • What We Are Reading: Forbes published an article titled, “4 Ways To Get A Low-Down-Payment Mortgage Without An FHA Loan.” The article noted one of the main benefits of private mortgage insurance (PMI) over government-backed loans: “You can cancel [PMI] once you have 20% equity. With an FHA loan, you would have to pay monthly mortgage insurance premiums for at least 11 years, if not for the life of the loan.”

Newsletter: October 2020

October has been a busy month in housing finance. Last week, USMI issued a new report on the strength and resiliency of the private mortgage insurance (MI) industry. The report highlights regulatory and industry-led reforms since the 2008 financial crisis which have enabled it to better serve homebuyers and lenders. It also continued to urge the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to develop policies for the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to promote a more stable and equitable housing finance system post-conservatorship.  While all eyes are on the election this week, below are other important issues USMI is tracking:

New USMI Report Released on MI Industry
USMI Blog on FHFA Re-Proposed Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF) and Strategic Plan
USMI’s Comments on FHFA Strategic Plan
FHFA Proposed Rule for New Enterprise Products and Activities
Urban Institute Releases October 2020 Chartbook
USMI President on “Main St. Finance” Podcast
ICYMI: CFPB Extends QM Patch

  • New USMI Report Released on MI Industry. Last week, USMI released a new report titled, “Private Mortgage Insurance: Stronger and More Resilient.” The report highlights significant regulatory and industry-led reforms taken since the 2008 financial crisis to improve and strengthen the role of private MI in the nation’s housing finance system. It analyzes the various steps the industry and regulators have undertaken and continue to take to ensure sustainable mortgage credit through all market cycles and to better serve low down payment borrowers in the conventional market, especially during critical economic times like these.

    Upon the report’s release, USMI President Lindsey Johnson said, “Though private mortgage insurers have been a crucial part of the housing finance system for more than 60 years, this is definitely ‘not your father’s’ MI industry.  Enhanced capital and operational standards, as well as increased active management of mortgage credit risk, including through the distribution of credit risk to the global reinsurance and capital markets, has put the industry in a stronger position.” She added, “These enhancements will enable the industry to be a more stabilizing force through different housing cycles — including the current COVID-19 crisis — which greatly benefits the GSEs and taxpayers and enhances the conventional mortgage finance system.”

    The report details several of the major enhancements to the industry in the last decade, including: Private Mortgage Insurer Eligibility Requirements (PMIERs); New Master Policy; Rescission Relief Principles; and MI Credit Risk Transfer (MI-CRT) Structures. The report provides an update on the growing MI-CRT market, noting that as of October 2020, private MI companies have transferred nearly $41.4 billion in risk on approximately $1.8 trillion of insurance-in-force (IIF) since 2015 using 23 reinsurance deals and 30 insurance-linked note (ILN) transactions.
  • USMI Blog on FHFA Re-Proposed ERCF and Strategic Plan. This week, USMI published a blog titled, “Capital Alone is Not Comprehensive Housing Finance Reform: More Administrative Actions are Required & FHFA’s Re-Proposed Capital Framework Should be Modified.” The piece emphasizes the importance of the appropriate level of capital for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but also the need for additional reforms prior to the GSEs’ exit from conservatorship. FHFA’s re-proposed ERCF will guide FHFA as it works to release the GSEs from conservatorship. As proposed, the ERCF would require the GSEs to hold about 10 times their current capital levels ($243 billion versus $28 billion, respectively, as of Q2 2020) and roughly five times their projected losses under a severe economic downturn.  USMI submitted its comment letter on the re-proposed ERCF in August 2020 and published an executive summary as well.

    USMI agrees that a robust and appropriately tailored capital standard for the GSEs is necessary and should strike the right balance to ensure consumers’ continued access to affordable mortgage credit while also protecting taxpayers. However, the ERCF has several overly conservative elements, such as the treatment of private MI and CRT transactions, as well as numerous non-risk adjusted capital buffers. Instead, USMI suggests FHFA should reduce or eliminate non-risk based elements and build the capital rule around an insurance framework, given the GSEs’ core function is a guaranty business. The framework should ultimately ensure adequate capital for the risks taken by the GSEs, but should not be set to an arbitrarily high level that puts homeownership out of reach for many American families.
  • USMI’s Comments on FHFA’s Strategic Plan. USMI’s blog also discusses USMI’s recommendations for FHFA’s Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2021-2024. USMI welcomes FHFA’s work on a post-conservatorship capital framework, but notes that it is important to recognize that capital alone is not comprehensive GSE reform, and additional actions are necessary to reform the housing finance system and put it on more stable footing for the long-term.Earlier this month, USMI submitted a comment letter to FHFA on its Strategic Plan. In its comment, USMI recommended that FHFA take further steps to reduce the GSEs’ risk exposure, level the playing field, and increase transparency around the GSEs’ pricing and business operations. USMI called for FHFA to take five specific actions in advance of the GSEs’ exit from conservatorship:
    1. Limit the GSEs’ activities to those necessary to fulfill their intended role of facilitating a liquid secondary market for mortgages, preserving the “bright line” separation between the primary and secondary mortgage markets;
    2. Increase transparency around the GSEs’ operations, credit decisioning, technologies, and role in the housing finance system;
    3. Require a “notice and comment period” process and prior approval for new products and activities at the GSEs;
    4. Require that counterparty standards be set by or in coordination with FHFA, and not just the GSEs; and
    5. Promote a clear, consistent, and coordinated housing finance system.
  • FHFA Proposed Rule for New Enterprise Products and Activities. Last week, FHFA released a proposed rule concerning “Prior Approval for Enterprise Products” that would require the GSEs to provide notice to FHFA before undertaking a new activity and obtain prior approval from FHFA before offering a new product. USMI welcomes Director Calabria’s effort to establish a more transparent and objective process for the development and implementation of new GSE products and activities. USMI further believes that the GSEs should only introduce new products, activities, and pilots when there is clear and compelling evidence that the GSEs are needed to fill a market void that the private market cannot meet. This rule would allow a rigorous review of the GSEs’ efforts and ensure that the GSEs’ activities are not duplicative nor unfairly competitive with the primary and private market participants.

    In response to the release of the proposed rule, the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) published a blog  titled, “Latest GSE Rule Protects Taxpayers and Businesses from Government Overreach.” NTU praised the rule as it would “help to ensure that the GSEs are neither crowding out private market competitors nor expanding obligations back-stopped by taxpayers.” NTU said the proposed rule is a “constructive step that protects taxpayers and private businesses from government overreach.”
  • Urban Institute Releases October 2020 Chartbook. This week, the Urban Institute published its October chartbook on housing finance. Included in this comprehensive analysis of industry data are updates on the MI industry, beginning on page 32. The Chartbook highlights that “Mortgage insurance activity via the FHA, VA and private insurers increased from $197 billion in Q2 2019 to $327 billion in Q2 2020, a 57.4 percent increase.  In the second quarter of 2020, private mortgage insurance written increased by $51.3 billion, FHA increased by $17.2 billion and VA increased by $56.4 billion relative to Q2 2019.”
  • USMI President on “Main St. Finance” Podcast. USMI’s members work to help low down payment borrowers have access to affordable mortgage credit. To share that message, USMI President Lindsey Johnson joined the “Main St. Finance” podcast to discuss the 20 percent down payment myth and the different low down payment options available to borrowers. Specifically, she explained how private MI bridges the down payment gap to help home-ready buyers get in their home sooner while also protecting lenders, the GSEs, and taxpayers from mortgage credit-related losses. Listen to podcast here.
  • ICYMI: CFPB Extends GSE Patch. On October 22, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a final rule to extend the GSE Patch until the CFPB implements a new General Qualified Mortgage (QM) definition. USMI previously submitted a comment letter on the Bureau’s proposed updates to the General QM definition, as well as a comment letter which recommended the CFPB set the sunset date for the GSE Patch to be at least six months after the effective date of the General QM definition final rule.

Newsletter: September 2020

As Congress returns from the August recess, regulators closed out the public comment periods for two proposed rules that will substantially impact the housing finance system and borrowers’ access to mortgage credit. Though there has been considerable focus on these important rulemakings over the past several months, policymakers, industry stakeholders, and USMI members remain hard at work supporting the housing finance system as we continue to adapt to and navigate the health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are the latest happenings from USMI and key topics we are tracking.

USMI Submits Comments to FHFA on Proposed Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF)
FHFA Director Calabria Testifies Before House Financial Services Committee
USMI Submits Comments to CFPB on General Qualified Mortgage (QM) Definition
Coalition Urges CFPB to Increase the QM Safe Harbor Threshold
ICYMI: USMI Column Published in The Dallas Morning News

USMI Submits Comments to FHFA on Proposed Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework. On August 31, USMI submitted its comments to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) on the re-proposed Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF). In its comments, USMI emphasized the importance of constructing a balanced, transparent, and analytically justified post-conservatorship capital framework for the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. USMI President Lindsey Johnson said that “while sufficient levels of capital are important to the sustainable operation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, excessive capital requirements could have a detrimental effect on mortgage availability.” She also added that these excessive capital requirements could, in turn, push mortgage lending outside of the conventional mortgage market.

USMI also called for more transparent and objective treatment of the GSEs’ counterparties, especially private mortgage insurers that already meet a set of rigorous capital and operational requirements known as the Private Mortgage Insurer Eligibility Requirements (PMIERs). In its comment letter, USMI provided the FHFA with detailed analysis to demonstrate that the capital credit for private MI should be increased to be consistent with historical analysis.  Similarly, USMI suggested that the proposed rule should encourage, and not discourage, private capital to absorb more risk in front of the GSEs and taxpayers.  

A number of other organizations shared similar assessments and recommendations.  The Urban Institute said that “the capital requirements on purchase loans should be lower, and more credit should be given to mortgage insurance.” National Taxpayers Union recommended that “[t]he proposed rule should promote, and not disincentivize private capital—including transferring first-loss credit risk through the use of loan level credit enhancement, such as private mortgage [insurance] and through transferring other layers of credit risk through responsible CRT.”

Finally, USMI noted that the revised capital standard is only one element of comprehensive GSE reform, calling on the FHFA to ensure the GSEs are appropriately regulated, maintain their position as market makers, and preserve the bright line separation between the primary and secondary mortgage markets.

USMI’s full comments on the 2020 proposed rule can be found here, an executive summary can be found here, and its comments on the 2018 proposal can be found here.

FHFA Director Calabria Testifies Before House Financial Services. On September 16, FHFA Director Mark Calabria testified before the House Financial Services Committee and provided an overview of the FHFA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ERCF. A number of members on the Committee focused their comments and questions on the ERCF with Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) noting in his comments to Director Calabria that in the ERCF “one of the things that doesn’t get credit is MI coverage that’s above the minimum level.”  Congressman Stivers and several representatives from both sides of the aisle also shared concerns that the ERCF would negatively impact and inhibit the CRT market.  Director Calabria committed to following up with Congressman Stivers to provide additional details on capital credit for greater MI coverage as well as credit for CRT.  Additionally, Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) as well as Representatives Nydia Velazquez (D-NJ), Bill Foster (D-IL), and Alma Adams (D-NC) shared concerns that the capital requirements outlined in the ERCF are excessive and could increase mortgage rates, especially for minority borrowers. Finally, there were a number of questions and comments related to the GSEs’ exit from conservatorship and other reforms that should happen prior to their exit. Representative Ted Budd (R-NC) questioned Director Calabria about the GSEs pilot programs, IMAGIN and EPMI, and asked, “[s]hould a GSE in conservatorship or in any state be permitted to set capital [standards] for counterparties and then compete against them in the primary market?” Director Calabria shared that this is a regulatory issue that was delayed by COVID-19, but that it is an issue the FHFA is committed to resolving. 

USMI Submits Comments on General Qualified Mortgage Definition. On September 8, USMI submitted comments to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for its proposed rule on the General Qualified Mortgage (QM) Definition. USMI urged the Bureau “to strike a proper balance between prudent and transparent underwriting standards, and access to affordable and sustainable mortgage finance credit for home-ready borrowers.” It further noted that the current proposed rule could limit access to the conventional market for traditionally underserved borrowers. In its letter, USMI recommended that the QM Safe Harbor should be set at 200 basis points (bps) above the Average Prime Offer Rate (APOR) to ensure the QM definition does not inadvertently limit access to credit for home-ready borrowers, particularly Black and Hispanic borrowers who are twice as likely to have spreads above the proposed 150 bps Safe Harbor threshold.

USMI also agreed with the Bureau’s assessment that a hard 43 percent debt-to-income (DTI) ratio would be the most harmful option for the General QM definition because it would severely limit access to credit in the conventional market. This assessment was consistent with USMI’s 2019 comment letter in response to the CFPB’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on the QM Definition. Also consistent with its 2019 comment letter, USMI suggests a better approach to a General QM definition would be a standard that includes a higher DTI threshold up to 50 percent with specified compensating factors. 

USMI also urged the CFPB to allow sufficient time for a smooth transition from the temporary QM category, the “GSE Patch,” to the new General QM definition. In August, USMI submitted comments to the CFPB on the GSE Patch, recommending the Bureau set the sunset date for the GSE Patch to be at least six months after the effective date of the General QM definition final rule. USMI wrote that “this time will be critical given the extensive and still undetermined scope of COVID-19 on the financial services industry as it focuses resources on responding to the economic and health fallout from the pandemic.”

Coalition Urges CFPB to Increase the QM Safe Harbor Threshold. USMI also co-signed a joint industry trade letter with 11 other housing policy and consumer advocate groups calling on the CFPB to increase the QM Safe Harbor threshold from 150 to 200 bps over the current APOR. USMI previously discussed the need for increasing the Safe Harbor threshold to mitigate borrower impact in a blog post. USMI wrote that based on its analysis of “mortgage originations, loan performance, market dynamics, and the need to ensure consumer access to affordable mortgage finance, we recommend that this threshold should be pegged to the same threshold as the QM status, which the NPR suggests should be 200 bps.” Doing so would result in a more level playing field and by changing that threshold, would mitigate the impact on borrowers.

ICYMI: USMI Column Published in The Dallas Morning News. On August 17, USMI published its latest column titled, “The Smarter Way to Buy a Home.” USMI breaks down the 20 percent down payment myth and explains how private mortgage insurance can help home-ready buyers get in their house sooner. USMI also highlights that private mortgage insurance is temporary, unlike other low-down payment options. USMI notes that once the borrower reaches 20 percent equity in their house, private mortgage insurance cancels—which is a significant advantage to borrowers considering a low down payment mortgage. Read the column in The Dallas Moring News.

Newsletter: August 2020

While this summer has posed new and unexpected challenges, policymakers and U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) and our members continue to work hard to make sure the U.S. housing system remains strong as we face unprecedented economic and health challenges resulting from COVID-19. Below are topics we have been following:

USMI Member Company COVID-19 Response
CFPB Kraninger’s Semi-Annual Hearings
USMI Submits Comment Letter to CFPB on GSE Patch Extension
SCOTUS to Hear Arguments on FHFA’s structure
Dana Wade Confirmed as FHA Commissioner 
USMI President in Mortgage Professional America 

  • USMI Member Company COVID-19 Response. USMI updated its COVID-19 resource webpage with its members’ response fact sheet, highlighting many of the important actions that USMI members have taken to support homeowners, servicers, and lenders across the country during the pandemic. Because of the critical role USMI members play in the housing finance system, the mortgage insurance (MI) industry is committed to supporting the federal government’s robust mortgage relief initiatives, including the nationwide forbearance programs implemented by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). The fact sheet outlines areas of common ground between USMI members and how they have focused their efforts on helping borrowers remain in their homes by supporting their lender customers during these challenging times. 
  • CFPB Kraninger’s Semi-Annual Hearings. On July 29 and 30, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Kathleen Kraninger testified before the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee, respectively. Both hearings focused on the Bureau’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and on its ongoing rulemakings and supervision activities. In her written testimony submitted to the Senate Banking Committee, Director Kraninger provided an update on the CFPB’s proposed changes to the GSE provision (GSE Patch) of the Bureau’s Ability-to-Repay (ATR)/Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule, which is set to expire in January 2021. The CFPB is still considering removing the QM loan definition’s 43 percent debt-to-income (DTI) ratio and replacing it with a pricing threshold.

    During the Senate Banking hearing, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) asked Director Kraninger why the QM standard and safe harbor thresholds would be different and stated, “I think we should do all that we can for credit worthy borrowers to become homeowners when it makes sense. By harmonizing the QM and the safe harbor, it might make it easier for financial institutions to not go to the default position of the safe harbor that’s 50 (basis) points lower.” In addition, during the House Financial Services Committee hearing, members from both parties expressed interest in the CFPB’s rulemaking on the General QM definition and its effect on prudent underwriting and consumers’ access to credit. Representatives Bill Foster (D-IL) and French Hill (R-AR) emphasized that any new QM standard should retain robust underwriting standards to ensure ATR and promote sustainable homeownership. Further, Representatives Hill and Steve Stivers (R-OH) noted that there should be a single pricing standard for QM and Safe Harbor since, unlike the 2013 ATR/QM Rule, pricing would be used to measure both under the proposed rule.
  • USMI Submits Comment Letter to CFPB on GSE Patch Extension. On August 10, USMI submitted a comment letter to the CFPB in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) regarding the extension of the sunset date for the Temporary GSE QM definition, or the “GSE Patch,” under the Qualified Mortgage Definition under the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z), which is currently set to expire on January 10, 2021. USMI recommended to Director Kraninger that the CFPB should “set the sunset date for the GSE Patch to be at least six months after the effective date of the finalized General QM definition rule.” Doing so would allow all industry stakeholders sufficient time to fully understand and implement the new rule and afford industry participants an appropriate amount of time to develop, test, and implement new models to facilitate a smooth transition to the new general QM framework. Moreover, as the financial services industry grapples with implications of COVID-19 and works to support market participants, consumers, and the economy, USMI believes a six-month overlap period would promote an orderly implementation of the new General QM definition while offering continued assistance to homeowners across the county.

    In June 2020, the CFPB issued a NPR on the General QM definition under the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z) and the GSE Patch. The Bureau’s NPR proposes to change the current QM standard in favor of a pricing threshold; specifically, the difference between the loan’s Annual Percentage Rate (APR) and the Average Prime Offer Rate (APOR) for a comparable transaction at 200 basis points (bps) above APOR. The Bureau justifies this threshold using early delinquency data as an indicator of determining consumers’ ATR.

    In a September 2019 comment letter to the CFPB, USMI emphasized that, should the Bureau move forward to replace the QM definition with one based on a pricing threshold, it can and should increase the spread that is used to delineate Safe Harbor loans. The previous 2013 ATR/QM Rule created two legal presumptions for QM loans: “Safe Harbor” and “Rebuttal Presumption.” These presumptions have, in turn, created a norm by which lenders will not typically lend above the Safe Harbor line and avoid making Rebuttable Presumption loans as to avoid risk to legal responsibility. This standard has disproportionality impacted Black and Hispanic homebuyers, who were twice as likely as White borrowers to have low down payment conventional purchase loans outside of the Safe Harbor. Under the proposed rule, many of the borrowers who are above the 150 bps threshold will be left only with the option of a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, which means they have vastly different competitive choices in terms of product offerings and loan terms. Further, due to the discrepancies for how this threshold is calculated between the conventional and FHA markets, leaving the Safe Harbor threshold at 150 bps will arbitrarily distort the market and shift borrowers to FHA. 

    Based on this, USMI and other industry members recommend that the Bureau increase the Safe Harbor threshold to 200 bps above APOR to be consistent with the proposed QM APOR threshold that the Bureau recommended in its June 2020 NPR.
  • SCOTUS to Hear Arguments on FHFA’s structure.  On July 9, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Collins v. Mnuchin upon its return in October. The suit questions the constitutionality of the FHFA’s single-director structure. Currently, the FHFA director is appointed to serve a five-year term and can only be removed “for-cause;” he or she cannot be fired at-will by the president. This follows the Court striking down the CFPB’s single-director structure in a 5-4 ruling in Seila Law v. CFPB in June, declaring it unconstitutional and severable from the other provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act. 

    In a statement, the FHFA said it did not believe the Court’s ruling applied to the FHFA. “The Seila Law decision does not directly affect the constitutionality of FHFA, including the for-cause removal provision.” It continued, “FHFA looks forward to the U.S. Supreme Court taking up the Collins case and clarifying these important issues.”
  • Dana Wade Confirmed as FHA Commissioner. On July 28, the Senate confirmed Dana Wade in a 57-40 bipartisan vote as commissioner of the FHA. USMI issued a statement praising Wade’s confirmation. USMI President Lindsey Johnson said, “Commissioner Wade has shown commitment to keeping FHA’s core mission of providing affordable housing opportunities to moderate and low-income households, who need the agency’s 100 percent taxpayer-backed loans the most. We are confident that Commissioner Wade will continue to carry out this mission as she understands the important role the agency plays in our housing financial system.” Mortgage Professional America included USMI’s statement in its coverage of Wade’s confirmation.
  • USMI President in Mortgage Professional America. Mortgage Professional America published USMI President Lindsey Johnson’s op-ed titled, “Low Down Payments Backed by Mortgage Insurance More Important Than Ever.” Using data from USMI’s 2020 “MI in Your State” report, Johnson explains why low down payment lending will be even more critical for future homeowners as the country endures and recovers from the current COVID-19 pandemic. The report found that it could take the average American homebuyer over 20 years to save for a 20 percent down payment. With private MI, the wait time could drop to just 7 years with a 5 percent down payment. Low down payments with private MI enable more well-qualified borrowers to become homeowners while keeping more cash on hand, a critical aspect during these trying times. Private MI also assumes the first layer of protection against mortgage credit risk protecting the federal government, and thus, American taxpayers. She concludes stating, “right now, more than ever, we are even more aware of the benefits of owning a home—from building wealth to creating stability to the importance of having a safe place to call your own.”

Newsletter: July 2020

We wish everyone a happy, healthy July 4th holiday and thank those who continue to serve the nation on the front lines of the COVID-19 health crisis. USMI and our members remain committed to supporting the U.S. housing finance system, ensuring homeowners continue to have access to prudent, affordable, low down payment mortgages to keep more cash on hand, especially during these critical and uncertain economic times. Additional information can be found on USMI’s COVID-19 Resource page. Below are updates related to COVID-19 as well as other recent significant policy and regulatory developments.

USMI Releases its Annual State-by-State Report
New Board Chairman at USMI
FHFA and the GSEs Provide Clarity on PMIERs Amid COVID-19
SCOTUS Rules on CFPB’s Single-Director Structure
CFPB Proposes Rules on QM Definition and Extension of the GSE Patch
FHFA Issues Re-Proposed Enterprise Capital Rule
ICYMI: New Video Explains How Private MI Work

  • USMI Releases its Annual State-By-State Report. On June 22, USMI released its annual report on low down payment lending at the state level. The report highlights that the number of low down payment loans backed by private mortgage insurance (MI) increased 22.9 percent in 2019; meanwhile saving for a 20 percent down payment could take potential homebuyers 21 years to save — three times the length of time it could take to save a 5 percent down payment. USMI also found that the top five states for low down payment home financing with private MI were Texas, California, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio.

    Upon release of the report, USMI President Lindsey Johnson noted that “Given the current economic environment and the desire of many people to keep more cash on-hand, low down payment loans are more important than ever. Loans backed by private MI are a great option as a time-tested means for accessing homeownership sooner while still providing credit risk protection and stability to the U.S. housing system.” See coverage of the report by National Mortgage News, Forbes, and Bankrate.
  • New USMI Board Chairman. On July 1, USMI announced that Derek Brummer, President of Mortgage at Radian Group, will serve as the Chairman of USMI’s Board of Directors. Brummer, who was appointed Radian’s President of Mortgage in February, previously served as USMI’s Vice Chairman of the Board and brings extensive experience in housing finance. In the announcement, Brummer stated that he looks “forward to ensuring the industry remains well-positioned to serve as an important source of strength for the housing finance system during all market cycles, so consumers continue to have access to affordable, low down payment, conventional mortgages.”
  • FHFA and the GSEs Provide Clarity on PMIERs Amid COVID-19. On June 26,the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, provided guidance on the Private Mortgage Insurer Eligibility Requirements (PMIERs), PMIERs 2020-01, effective June 30, 2020. PMIERs are a set of operational and risk-based capital requirements implemented in 2015 and updated in 2018 for private MI companies to be approved to insure loans acquired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 disaster, including its national scope and the ongoing duration of the health and economic effects, the PMIERs language needed additional clarity, which USMI is pleased FHFA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac understood and provided.

    USMI President Lindsey Johnson said in a statement, “USMI supports the actions taken by federal policymakers, particularly the FHFA, to stabilize the economy and provide assistance to those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. USMI’s member companies are well-positioned to support the FHFA and GSEs’ efforts to ensure that homeowners who have been affected by COVID-19 are able to stay in their homes and maintain a safe and secure environment for their families.”
  • SCOTUS Rules on CFPB’s Single-Director Structure. On June 29, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in Seila Law v. CFPB that the single-director structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), where the leadership by a single director that is removable only “for cause” (inefficiency, neglect, or malfeasance), violates the Constitution. However, the Court did not invalidate the agency in its entirety. The majority held that the removal protection of the CFPB Director is severable from the other provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act that created the CFPB and defined its authorities and responsibilities. The CFPB did not challenge the decision and the White House released a statement saying the Supreme Court’s “decision represents an important victory for the fundamental principle that government officials should be accountable to the American people.” Given the FHFA has a similar structure, it is likely the legal conclusion may be applied to the FHFA. The Court’s decision opens the door for any future new administration to usher in new leadership of these two independent agencies.
  • CFPB Proposes Rules on QM Definition and Temporary Extension of the GSE Patch. With the temporary QM category, also known as the “GSE Patch,” set to expire on January 10, 2021, the CFPB released Notices of Proposed Rulemakings (NPRMs) on a new QM definition and to temporarily extend the GSE Patch on June 22, 2020. Comments for the general QM definition are due 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. In a statement after the release of the NPRMs, USMI President Lindsey Johnson stated, “USMI members, as takers of first-loss mortgage credit, emphasized the need to balance prudent underwriting with a clear standard that maintains access to mortgage finance for home-ready borrowers.”

    The CFPB previously released an Advanced NPRM on the QM definition over a year ago, after which USMI submitted a comment letter that among other things, recommended replacing the current GSE Patch by establishing a single transparent and consistent QM definition that balances access to mortgage finance credit and proper underwriting guardrails to ensure consumers’ ability to repay (ATR). USMI specifically recommended that the Bureau establish a list of transparent mitigating underwriting criteria (compensating factors) for loans with a debt-to-income ratios above 45 percent and up to 50 percent. USMI also recommended that, to provide a more level playing field between the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the conventional market, the QM Safe Harbor annual percentage rate (APR) cap of the Average Prime Offer Rate (APOR) + 150bps needs to be increased to not arbitrarily shift the market to FHA, or leave some home-ready borrowers without access to mortgage finance credit. Setting the cap at APOR + 200bps would limit this arbitrary shift in the market, preserve greater private capital participation in the pricing of risk, and promote better taxpayer protection.

    The Bureau’s June 2020 NPRM on the QM definition largely proposes an approach that would rely on a pricing spread between APR and APOR to determine QM status. While it is notable that the Bureau retained a QM Safe Harbor and QM Rebuttable Presumption, it is critical that the Safe Harbor threshold be increased from 150bps to 200bps above APOR, as it has been demonstrated that few loans are done outside of Safe Harbor. As USMI commented in its 2019 comment letter, it is essential that the Safe Harbor threshold be moved from 150bps to 200bps to ensure that creditworthy borrowers are not arbitrarily left only with the option of an FHA mortgage or left out of the market entirely, and to promote greater private capital participation in the pricing of risk and better taxpayer protection.
  • FHFA Issues Re-Proposed Rule on Enterprise Capital. Another very significant rule recently released is the re-proposed Enterprise Regulatory Capital Framework (ERCF), which was published in the Federal Register this week, starting the 60-day clock for comments to be submitted. FHFA noted that one of the key reasons for the re-proposed rule is that establishing robust capital standards is a key step in the process to end the GSEs conservatorships, which was “a departure from the expectations of interested parties at the time of the 2018 proposal.” FHFA also noted that the re-proposed rule increases the quantity and quality of the regulatory capital at the GSEs to ensure their safety and soundness—with the overall capital required under the 2020 proposal being roughly $240 billion in loss absorbing capital—nearly $100 billion more than the 2018 proposal. FHFA officials believe that the re-proposed rule puts the GSEs on track to begin raising capital as soon as next year.

    USMI submitted a comment letter to the FHFA in 2018 when the ERCF was originally proposed. On May 21, USMI issued a statement in response to the re-proposed rule, sharing its support for “meaningful capital requirements” and recognizing the ERCF’s importance in determining the future role of the GSEs, how private capital, such as private MI, will be able to continue to support the conventional market to protect taxpayers, and importantly, determine consumers’ access to and cost of mortgage finance credit.
  • ICYMI: New Video Explains How Private MI Works. As part of June’s National Homeownership month, USMI released a new video helping first-time homebuyers understand whether they are mortgage ready. The video explores low down payment financing options to future homeowners and explains the benefits of private mortgage insurance.

Newsletter: February 2020

We are ready for March Madness but will take the extra day in February to highlight what has been a very busy start to 2020 for housing policy!

CFPB Director on Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule
Industry and Consumer Groups Call for Maintaining Prudent Underwriting Guardrails as Part of QM Patch Replacement
CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger Testifies before House Financial Services Committee
USMI Speaks on QM “in a Post-Patch World”
USMI President Lindsey Johnson at Structured Finance Association
FHFA Moves Ahead with Plans to End Conservatorship
FHFA Issues and RFI on FHLBank Membership
Administration and Congress Take Action on Housing Affordability
Dana Wade Nominated as FHA Commissioner
USMI President Lindsey Johnson on the FHA Insurance Fund
ICYMI: Extension of the MI Tax Deduction


  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director on QM Rule. On January 17, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger sent a letter to select members of Congress notifying them of the CFPB’s intentions to eliminate the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio requirement and move to a standard based on an alternative metric, specifically a pricing threshold. She wrote that the CFPB would extend the QM definition “for a short period until the effective date of the proposed alternative or until one or more of the GSEs [government sponsored enterprises] exits conservatorship, whichever comes first.” As for the DTI requirement, Director Kraninger proposed replacing it for a pricing threshold, such as the difference between the loan’s annual percentage rate (APR) and the average prime offer rate (APOR) for a comparable transaction (the APOR-approach).
  • Industry and Consumer Groups Call for Maintaining Prudent Underwriting Guardrails as Part of QM Patch Replacement. In response, on January 21, USMI joined eight other organizations on a letter to Director Kraninger recommending the CFPB replace the current QM definition with one that relies on measurable underwriting thresholds and the use of compensating factors (such as liquid reserves, limited payment shock, and/or a larger down payment from the borrower’s own funds) for higher risk mortgages (those loans with DTI ratios above 45 and up to 50 percent). This letter goes on to explain how alternative recommendations (e.g., using pricing thresholds) would have a negative impact on minority and lower income borrowers and should be avoided through the better approach of relying on other compensating factors that enable prudent underwriting and affordable access to credit.

    The organizations also urged “that the transition period from the existing GSE Patch to the new QM framework be sufficiently long to allow market participants adequate time to plan for, and adjust to, new rules and underwriting standards” in order to avoid the risks of regulatory uncertainty “that might cause mortgage originators to retreat from lending to creditworthy homebuying and refinancing borrowers.”
  • Kraninger Testifies before House Financial Services Committee. On February 6, Director Kraninger testified before the House Committee on Financial Services where the discussion on the QM definition continued. Representatives Nydia M. Velasquez (D-NY), Brad Sherman (D-CA), French Hill (R-AR), Warren Davidson (R-OH), Alma Adams (D-NC), and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) all raised questions on the CFPB’s plan to replace the DTI requirement and its potential impact on the housing finance market and on low-to-moderate income borrowers’ access to safe and affordable mortgage finance credit. When asked on the timing for the release of the QM Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR), Director Kraninger responded “no later than May,” which was affirmed this week by the Bureau when it formally announced it will issue proposed changes to the QM definition by May. Director Kraninger said, “[t]he bureau will propose an alternative, such as a pricing threshold, to better ensure that responsible, affordable mortgage credit remains available to consumers.” If you have not read it yet, USMI released a blog last year with observations and recommendations for replacing the QM and balancing prudent underwriting with borrower access to affordable mortgage finance in the conventional market.
  • USMI Speaks on QM “in a Post-Patch World.” On February 18, USMI President Johnson spoke at a panel co-hosted by the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and Women in Housing Finance (WHF) on the future of QM after the expiration of the QM Patch. The panel discussed how the housing industry could change in the near future and the roles that other housing intuitions, like private mortgage insurance (MI), will play in supporting a vibrant housing industry. 
  • USMI President Lindsey Johnson at Structured Finance Association (SFA). This week, USMI President Johnson, along with Pete Carroll from Core Logic, Andrew Davidson from Andrew Davidson & Co., Rajiv Kamilla from Goldman Sachs, Larry Platt from Mayer Brown, and Jeremy Switzer from Penny Mac, spoke on a panel at SFA’s conference in Las Vegas titled, “Building Industry Governance for the PLS Market.” Johnson discussed the important governance changes and enhancements in quality controls and industry practices and regulation that have occurred in the conventional market that would greatly benefit the private label security (PLS) market, including the underwriting criteria that have developed under the QM Patch. Johnson also spoke about the role private MI can play to bring greater credit quality assurances and ensure prudent risk management in the PLS market.
  • Federal Housing Finance Agency Moves Ahead with Plans to End Conservatorship. On February 3, FHFA awarded the investment bank Houlihan Lokey Inc. a potential $45 million advisory contract to help recapitalize the GSEs as part of the government’s plan to end their conservatorships. FHFA Director Mark Calabria stated “[h]iring a financial advisor is a significant milestone toward ending the conservatorships of the enterprises,” adding that “[t]he next major milestone for the FHFA is the re-proposal of the capital rule, which will happen in the near future.”
  • FHFA Issues a Request for Input (RFI) on Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLBank) Membership. Earlier this week, the FHFA issued a RFI for FHLBank membership, in which it seeks input “on whether the FHFA’s existing regulation on FHLBank membership ensures the FHLBank System, consistent with statutory requirements, remains safe and sound, provides liquidity for housing finance through the housing and business cycle, and supports the FHLBanks’ housing finance and community development mission.”
  • Administration and Congress Take Action on Housing Affordability. Yesterday, the FHFA announced the authorization of payments for 2019 from the GSEs to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Housing Trust Fund and Treasury for the Capital Magnet Fund. The Housing Trust Fund, an affordable housing program designed to increase and preserve the supply of decent, safe, and sanitary affordable housing for extremely low- and very low-income households, received $326.4 million and the Capital Magnet Fund, a program focused on the developments, preservation, rehabilitation, and purchase of housing for low income families, received $175.8 million. Congress also took steps this week to explore housing affordability and the House Financial Services Committee marked up and approved four bills concerning housing and community development:
    • H.R. 5931, the “Improving FHA Support for Small Dollar Mortgages Act of 2020” (Clay-Stivers), would require FHA to conduct a review of its policies to identify barriers to supporting mortgages under $70k and report to Congress within one year with a plan for removing such barriers.  The bill was reported favorably to the House by a recorded vote of 48 to 0.
    • H.R. 149, the “Housing Fairness Act of 2020” (Rep. Green), would authorize increased funding for HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program in addition to creating a new competitive matching grant program to support comprehensive studies of the causes and effects of ongoing discrimination and segregation, and the implementation of pilots to test solutions. The bill was reported favorably to the House by a recorded vote of 33 to 25.
    • H.R. 4351, the “Yes in My Backyard Act” (Rep. Heck), would require localities receiving CDBG funding to submit a plan to track and report on the implementation of certain land use policies that promote housing production. The bill was agreed to and reported favorably to House by a voice vote.
    • H.R. 5187, the “Housing Is Infrastructure Act” (Chairwoman Waters), would authorize $100.6 billion for investments in the nation’s affordable housing infrastructure, including public housing, supporting housing for seniors and people with disabilities, making housing affordable to the lowest-income people, and rural and Native American housing.  The bill was reported favorably to the House by a recorded vote of 33 to 25.
  • Dana Wade Nominated as Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner. On February 20, the White House announced President Trump’s intent to nominate Dana Wade as FHA Commissioner and oversee the agency’s $1.3 trillion portfolio. USMI President Lindsey Johnson issued a statement applauding the nomination, stating that USMI “look[s] forward to working closely with Dana Wade in seeking ways to establish a more complementary, collaborative, and consistent housing finance system that prudently enables homeownership for American families while also protecting taxpayers.”
  • USMI President Lindsey Johnson on the FHA Insurance Fund. Scotsman Guide shared USMI President Lindsey Johnson’s views on the current health of the FHA insurance fund in an article on the wider industry debate surrounding the FHA’s insurance fund. Johnson noted that the insurance fund is highly vulnerable to market changes, adding that “[t]axpayers are currently exposed to over $1.19 trillion in outstanding mortgage risk at the FHA. This would only increase if FHA insurance premiums were reduced. Also, any change to FHA’s life-of-loan coverage would mean exposing taxpayers to further undo risk.”
  • ICYMI: Extension of the MI Tax Deduction. In January, Congress passed the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, which retroactively extended tax deductions for mortgage insurance premiums to calendar year 2018 and remains in effect throughout 2020. USMI President Lindsey Johnson issued a statement praising the extension saying, “[w]e are pleased Congress extended the mortgage insurance tax deduction for years 2018 through the end of 2020. Private MI has helped more than 30 million middle-income Americans become homeowners over the last 60 years, and for over 10 years the deductibility of mortgage insurance has helped benefit millions of these hard-working borrowers.” According to the most recent IRS statistics of income, in 2017 alone more than 2.285 million taxpayers benefited from the MI premium tax deduction. The deduction is available to homeowners (married filing jointly) with MI who have adjusted gross incomes under $100,000 and phases-out for adjusted gross incomes up to $110,000. Earlier this week, the IRS issued a news release (IR-2020-44) describing the procedure for taxpayers to claim benefits of for expired provisions for already-closed tax years. According to guidance from the IRS, homeowners seeking to retroactively claim a tax deduction for mortgage insurance premiums for tax year 2018 will need to file an amended return using form 1040-X.

Newsletter: December 2019

As the year draws to a close, the focus is on the end-of-year legislative and rulemaking deadlines—as well as looking at what’s ahead for housing in 2020. Earlier this month, the Urban Institute published an updated report that provides analysis on private mortgage insurance (MI) borrowers and the role private MI plays in reducing mortgage risk exposure. In November, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced its plans to re-propose the Enterprise Capital Rule in 2020. In addition, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and National Taxpayers Union (NTU) released analysis of the Trump Administration’s Housing Finance Reform Plans, emphasizing the need to transition the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, out of conservatorship. It highlights the role that private capital can play in facilitating such a transition. The Senate also moved closer to filling a very important housing policy position at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) when Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner Brian Montgomery was approved by the Senate Banking Committee to serve as HUD’s Deputy Secretary. Finally, FHFA and HUD increased loan limits for mortgages acquired by the GSEs and insured by the FHA, respectively.

  • Urban Institute releases an update to its MI chart book. On December 4, the Urban Institute published an updated analysis of the MI market, highlighting both the role that MI has played in enabling homeownership, as well as the protection private MI offers lenders, the GSEs, and taxpayers. The report, which included national and state-specific data, highlighted the borrowers currently being served by private MI, noting these borrowers tend to have higher credit scores and lower loan-to-value (LTV) and debt-to-income (DTI) ratios than FHA borrowers. The report highlights the important role private MI plays in helping to ensure low- to moderate-income and first-time homebuyers have access to the conventional market. It details that private MI is more affordable than FHA-back loans for the majority of combinations of FICO score and LTV ratios of 96.5, 95, 90, and 85 percent. The report also found that private MI borrowers tend to have lower credit scores, higher LTV and DTI ratios, and are more likely to be first-time homebuyers than conventional borrowers without private MI. Importantly, GSE loans with private MI have lower loss severities than non-private MI GSE loans, despite their higher LTV ratios. In other words, private MI is highly effective in allowing more qualified borrowers enter the mortgage market and achieve homeownership, while significantly reducing losses to the GSEs, which in turn reduces taxpayers’ risk.
  • FHFA’s Enterprise Capital Rule. In mid-November, FHFA announced its plans to re-propose the Enterprise Capital Rule in 2020. Director Mark Calabria remarked, “the Capital Rule is one of the most important rules I will issue as Director. This rule will be re-proposed and finalized within a timeline fully consistent with ending the conservatorships. Requiring the Enterprises to build capital that can properly support their risk ensures that taxpayers will never be on the hook again during an economic downturn.” Speaking at an event hosted by the Federalist Society on Tuesday, Director Calabria indicated that the FHFA is targeting Q1 of 2020 to re-propose the capital rule.

    Originally introduced in 2018, the process of retaining capital at the GSEs is viewed as a critical first step to end their conservatorships. When FHFA first announced the plan in 2018, USMI submitted a comment letter stating it “supports meaningful and appropriate capital requirements for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and appreciates the FHFA for initiating this rulemaking process.” USMI agrees the rule is one of the most significant rules to be issued in that it will determine the future role of the GSEs, how private capital will be able to continue to support the conventional market to protect taxpayers, and importantly, the level of access and affordability of mortgage finance credit for consumers. USMI supports the FHFA working to re-propose and finalize a capital rule for the GSEs that strikes an appropriate balance between borrowers’ access to affordable mortgage finance and creates robust and countercyclical capital requirements that creates a transparent and level playing field, and that better insulates the GSEs and taxpayers from mortgage credit risk
  • CAGW and NTU released analysis of the Trump Administration’s Housing Finance Reform Plans. CAGW and NTU’s recent report offers a compelling argument in favor of enacting meaningful reforms at the GSEs to strengthen the nation’s housing finance system, concluding that “without comprehensive reform, taxpayers are likely to bail out the GSEs again in the future.” After analyzing the Treasury Department’s Housing Finance Reform Plan, CAGW and NTU believe that GSE reform should be guided by the following principles: 1) creating a sustainable, cautious path to recapitalization and release that minimizes systemic risk; 2) protecting taxpayers through stringent capital backstops and liquidity requirements; and 3) restricting mission creep and promoting private-sector competition.

    Further, the report outlines several regulatory changes needed to facilitate the GSEs’ transition out of conservatorship including among other things that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should allow the current Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule, known as the “GSE Patch,” to be replaced by transparent and consistent rules that apply across the industry. “Conservatorship was never meant to last forever,” the report concludes. By implementing these changes, the Trump Administration, Congress, FHFA, Treasury, and HUD have the opportunity to reshape the mortgage market and, ultimately, safeguard American taxpayers.
  • Senate Banking Committee advances Brian Montgomery’s nomination to serve as HUD Deputy Secretary. On December 11, FHA Commissioner Brian Montgomery was approved by a bipartisan vote of 20-5 in the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs to serve as HUD’s Deputy Secretary. His nomination will now move on to the Senate for final confirmation. In a statement issued on October 8, USMI applauded Montgomery’s nomination and commended him for his extensive background and experience that will allow him to immediately begin work on the most important issues facing the housing finance system.
  • FHFA and HUD increase loan limits for 2020. On November 26, FHFA announced the maximum conforming loan limits for mortgages acquired by the GSEs in 2020. The baseline limits for 2020 will be $510,400 and the high-cost area limit will be $765,600 – this represents an approximate 5 percent increase from the 2019 loan limits. These changes mean that the maximum conforming loan limit will be high in 2020 in all but 43 counties in the country. On December 3, the FHA announced the 2020 county loan limits for single-family mortgages the agency insures and issued a Mortgagee Letter outlining the “2020 Nationwide Forward Mortgage Limits.” FHA sets the loan limits for most counties at 115 percent of the country’s median home price and, for 2020, set the “floor” for low-cost areas at $331,760 (65 percent of the national conforming limit) and the “ceiling” for high-cost areas at $765,600 (150 percent of the national conforming limit) for one-unit properties.

Newsletter: November 2019

CONGRATS TO THE NATS! While the baseball season has officially ended, housing finance reform still has a few innings left in the game. On Monday, National Mortgage News reported on U.S. Mortgage Insurers’ (USMI) release of new details on the growing mortgage insurance credit risk transfer (MI CRT) market. USMI President Lindsey Johnson also spoke about innovative MI CRT on a panel at the Structured Finance Association’s (SFA) Residential Finance Symposium. On the housing finance reform front, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria said that he is currently in negotiations with the Treasury Department to amend the Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs). He also spoke at an event hosted by the American Action Forum (AAF), where he was followed by a panel discussion on housing finance reform. Last week, FHFA released its 2019 Strategic Plan and 2020 Scorecard for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“the GSEs”). This comes following several recent comments by Director Calabria reiterating the agency’s commitment to responsibly ending the GSEs’ conservatorships. In mid-October, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) applauded the direction of FHFA under Director Calabria’s leadership. Lastly, we’re seeing more movement coming with the nomination of Brian Montgomery as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in early October.

Despite a busy month, there’s still plenty to look forward to at the #NEXTDC19 conference on November 18 and 19, which will bring policy experts together and create a great stage for lively discussions on the future of housing policy. Most importantly, ahead of the Veterans Day holiday, we want to thank and recognize all of the veterans who have bravely served in the United States Armed Forces. We are grateful for your service. 

USMI announces details on MI Credit Risk Transfer. On November 4, USMI announced that private MI companies transferred nearly $34 billion in risk on nearly $1.3 trillion of insurance-in-force from 2015 to 2019 to the global reinsurance and capital markets. USMI released details on the development and growth of the MI CRT market, which outlines the types of structures being used by the industry to transfer risk to reduce volatility and exposure of mortgage credit risk within the mortgage finance system, including to the GSEs, and therefore taxpayers. It also finds that active adoption of CRT by private mortgage insurers has transformed the industry to better insulate it from cyclical mortgage markets and enhanced MIs’ ability to be more stable, long-term managers and distributors of credit risk.

USMI President Lindsey Johnson spoke to MI CRT on a panel at the SFA’s Residential Finance Symposium. She also spoke with National Mortgage News on the innovative ways private MI is now actively managing mortgage credit risk. Johnson stated that in recent years mortgage insurers are not just participating in GSE CRT transactions, but also distributing their own risk through MI CRT.

AAF hosts panel discussion on housing finance reform. On November 6, AAF hosted a panel titled, “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: What’s Next?” Speakers included FHFA Director Mark Calabria; Dr. Norbert Michel, Director of the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation; Dr. Michael Stegman, Senior Fellow of the Housing Finance Program at the Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets; and Thomas Wade, Director of Financial Services Policy at AAF. The panel was moderated by CNN’s senior economics writer, Donna Borak. The panel discussed the Treasury Department’s and HUD’s GSE Reform Plans, FHFA’s and Treasury’s actions to allow for the recapitalization of the GSEs, and additional reform initiatives by the Administration.

FHFA releases new Strategic Plan and Scorecard for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. On October 28, FHFA released its 2019 Strategic Plan and 2020 Scorecard, detailing the near-term future for the GSEs. In the Strategic Plan, FHFA provided a roadmap on how the GSEs will fulfill their statutory missions and maintain their focus on safety and soundness while preparing for what the FHFA calls “a responsible end to the conservatorships.” The 2020 Scorecard details how the GSEs will remain accountable for “the effective implementation of the Strategic Plan in the coming year.” Both documents outlined three key goals: (1) foster competitive, liquid, efficient, and resilient (CLEAR) national housing finance markets that support sustainable homeownership and affordable rental housing; (2) operate in a safe and sound manner appropriate for entities in conservatorships; and (3) prepare for their eventual exit from conservatorships.

In FHFA’s press release, Director Calabria said, “Our nation’s mortgage finance system is in urgent need of reform. The vision for reform articulated in the Strategic Plan and advanced in the Scorecard will serve borrowers and renters by preserving mortgage credit availability, protect taxpayers by ensuring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can withstand an economic downturn, and support a strong and resilient secondary mortgage market.”

FHFA intensely focused on the GSEs exiting conservatorship. At a meeting with reporters on October 31, Director Calabria noted that he is not giving Fannie and Freddie an easy pass. “I’ll certainly say I have yet to meet anybody who wants to get out of conservatorship as much as Fannie and Freddie do. But certainly, what you’ve been seeing over the last few years is not the kind of day-to-day behavior that you would expect from companies that are in conservatorship.”

Earlier that week, Director Calabria gave a keynote speech at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Annual Convention in Austin, TX, and explained that after just one quarter of capital retention where Fannie and Freddie profits weren’t swept to Treasury, the companies doubled their capital buffers. “Fannie and Freddie will move forward thoughtfully, but this does not mean moving slowly.” But as exiting the conservatorship moves closer, Director Calabria explained he will ensure that it is done right. “I will not end the conservatorship unless I am confident that once Fannie and Freddie leave, they will never have to return.”

CAGW applauds FHFA’s new leadership. On October 16, CAGW wrote that “Mark Calabria is moving FHFA in a new direction and making taxpayers his top priority.” CAGW provided several examples of Director Calabria’s work, including FHFA’s focus on building capital at the GSEs to protect taxpayers, revising the GSEs’ multifamily lending caps, and the termination of the GSEs’ Mortgage Servicing Rights (MSR) pilot program.  Regarding the MSR pilot, CAGW noted that FHFA should apply this logic to any other pilots that allow the GSEs to push into markets and engage in activities that are already thriving. It is promising that Director Calabria is reviewing all pilots and new activities that expand the GSEs’ market dominance and encourages the enterprises to expose taxpayers to additional risk.”

Nomination of Brian Montgomery as HUD Deputy Secretary. On October 8, HUD announced that Commissioner Montgomery had been nominated to serve as Deputy Secretary and the Senate Banking Committee will consider his nomination on November 20. Montgomery, who also serves as HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner, would manage the day-to-day operations of the agency and assist Secretary Carson in leading the department’s nearly 8,000 employees. USMI applauded the decision, noting “Commissioner Montgomery is a respected, seasoned mortgage finance expert, and his unique experience and past public service have been major assets to the FHA. His extensive background will allow him to immediately begin work on the most important issues facing the housing finance system.”

Upcoming events. The#NEXTDC19 conference is an event focused on delivering policy intel. On November 18 and 19, it will bring together the most influential housing policy leaders, mortgage lenders, and fintech firms.

Newsletter: September 2019

Congress is back from recess, Pumpkin Spice lattes are back on the menu, and housing finance reform is back at the top of news headlines in Washington this fall. In September, the Trump Administration released plans to reform the nation’s housing finance system. USMI issued a statement applauding the initiative and calling for Congress to address the GSEs’ underlying structural challenges and promote a coordinated federal housing policy. The Senate Banking Committee also held a hearing on the matter to learn more about the Administration’s Plans. The same week that the Administration released its Plans, the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of GSE shareholders in their lawsuit against the U.S. Treasury, as the court allowed the shareholders to reinstate claims alleging that FHFA is unconstitutionally structured. While the fate of the legal challenges is still unclear, what is clear is that FHFA is moving ahead on many of its plans to review and make changes to the current programs and activities of the GSEs. Last week, FHFA announced an increase to the caps on the amount of multifamily loans the GSEs can purchase next year, and just this week FHFA announced an end to the GSEs’ pilots to offer lines of credits to non-bank servicers that pledge agency mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) as collateral. Additionally, the CFPB closed its comment period on its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) this week on the “Qualified Mortgage Definition under the Truth in Lending Act.” USMI submitted comments outlining several recommendations to the Bureau to balance prudent underwriting with consumers’ access to mortgage finance credit. Lastly, the House Financial Services Committee held a markup on several housing related bills, including legislation to reauthorize the HUD to implement credit scoring pilots in the underwriting process for FHA insured mortgages.

  • The Trump Administration’s Housing Finance Reform Plans. On September 6, the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released their comprehensive Housing Reform Plan and Housing Finance Reform Plan to end the federal conservatorships of the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), which have lasted more than 11 years. USMI released a statement that applauds Treasury and HUD for their comprehensive plans and calls for Congress to address the underlying structural challenges of the GSEs. USMI wrote, “the Administration’s proposals to reduce taxpayer risk exposure and address the areas of misaligned incentives of the GSEs while increasing transparency and market discipline could be the catalyst to break the legislative logjam and enable policymakers to enact comprehensive reforms.” USMI also appreciates that Treasury and HUD identified specific areas where the Administration can focus its efforts to put the housing finance system on a more sustainable path. Many of the actions proposed by the Administration’s Plans align with USMI’s principles for Administrative Reform, including increasing transparency in the housing finance system and expanding the role of private capital ahead of taxpayer risk.
  • Senate Banking Committee Hearing. After the release of the Administration’s Plans, the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing on September 10 titled “Housing Finance Reform: Next Steps,” in which HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director, Mark Calabria, delivered their testimonies and answered questions from committee members.

    All three Administration officials reiterated the need for Congress to provide input on reform, inviting the Legislative Branch to take a leadership role. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said, “[p]ending legislation, Treasury will continue to support FHFA’s administrative actions to enhance the regulation of the GSEs, promote private sector competition, and satisfy the preconditions set forth in the plan for ending the GSEs’ conservatorships.” FHFA Director Mark Calabria also noted that “[the GSEs] have expanded with the economy recently yet maintained risk and capital levels that ensure they will fail in a downturn. This pro-cyclical pattern harms low-income borrowers, making it easier to buy homes beyond their means when the economy is strong and harder to keep those homes when the economy is weak.”

    Chairman Crapo (R-ID) said in his opening statement that “[m]any of the legislative recommendations in the Plans that were released are consistent with my outline to fix our housing finance system, including attracting private capital back into the market; protecting taxpayers against future bailouts; and promoting competition.” Ranking Member Brown (D-OH) summarized the foundational principles for reform around which housing stakeholders are coalescing and added that “[w]e need a housing system built on a mission to serve borrowers and renters, no matter who they are, what kind of work they do, or where they live. That means we need policies that focus on increasing service for underserved markets, like rural areas and manufactured homeowners, and borrowers who have been locked out of the housing market over decades of discrimination.”

  • Fifth Circuit rules on FHFA. On September 9, the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of investors suing the U.S. Treasury Department, allowing them to proceed with previously dismissed claims alleging the FHFA exceeded its authority with “net worth sweep.” “Congress created FHFA amid a dire financial calamity, but expedience does not license omnipotence,” U.S. Circuit Judge Don R. Willett wrote for a nine-member majority. “The shareholders plausibly allege that the Third Amendment exceeded FHFA’s conservator powers by transferring Fannie and Freddie’s future value to a single shareholder, Treasury.” The case will now be discussed in a Texas federal court where it was originally filed in 2016. The court will decide whether the restored investor claims should go to trial or be resolved on summary judgement.
  • FHFA increases GSEs multifamily lending caps and ends GSE MSR Pilot Program. On September 16, the FHFA increased caps on the amount of multifamily loans the GSEs can purchase next year. FHFA will now limit Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchasing over $100 billion each -up from $35 billion each in the years 2018 and 2019- in multifamily-housing residential loans, between the fourth quarters of 2019 and 2020. FHFA also made other revisions to how the GSEs can conduct their multifamily businesses, now requiring that the two firms must have over one-third (37.5 percent) of their multifamily activities directed toward affordable housing. Furthermore, the new lending caps eliminate exclusions that allowed the GSEs to purchase loans in excess of the limits previously in place.

    “Multifamily housing is a critical component of addressing our nation’s shortage of affordable housing,” said FHFA Director Mark Calabria. “These new multifamily caps eliminate loopholes, provide ample support for the market without crowding out private capital, and significantly increase affordable housing support over previous levels. The Enterprises should also manage under the caps to provide consistent, stable liquidity to the market throughout the entire five-quarter period.” 

    Earlier this week, FHFA announced an end to the GSEs’ pilot program to finance MSRs. It was reported on May 7, that Freddie Mac had provided lines of credit for several nonbank servicers. In making the announcement, Director Calabria noted “[t]he MSR market is already served by a wide assortment of highly competitive private sources of capital and financing. Going forward, the Enterprises should focus on activities that are core to the guaranty business, mitigate risk, and are essential to end the conservatorships.”

  • CFPB closes comment period on QM definition. On September 16, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) closed its comment period on its ANPR on the “Qualified Mortgage (QM) Definition under the Truth in Lending Act,” in light of the pending expiration of the provision commonly referred to as the “GSE Patch” in January 2021. USMI applauded the CFPB’s initiative of undertaking an assessment of this critical rule. It submitted a comment letter offering specific recommendations for replacing the current “GSE Patch” to establish a single transparent and consistent QM definition in a way to balance access to mortgage finance credit and proper underwriting guardrails to ensure consumers’ ability-to-repay (ATR). USMI’s recommendations include:

    • Maintaining the ATR and product restrictions as part of any updates to the QM definition to ensure discipline in the lending community and to protect consumers;
    • Retaining specific underwriting guardrails such as a debt-to-income (DTI) threshold but notes that DTI should not be a stand alone factor for ATR. Further, the USMI comment letter demonstrates through data that the DTI threshold should be adjusted to better serve consumers;
    • Because DTI should not be a stand along measure of ATR, USMI recommends developing a single set of transparent compensating factors for loans with DTIs above 45 and up to 50 percent for defining QM across all markets, similar to how the GSEs, FHA, and VA use compensating factors in their respective markets today.

      Importantly, nine Democratic U.S. Senators led by Senate Banking Ranking member Sherrod Brown sent a letter to the Bureau stating that as it considered amending the existing QM rule, the Bureau “must not undermine the elements of the rule that have made it effective: prohibitions on unsustainable product features and a verifiable demonstration at loan origination that the lender has evaluated the borrower’s ability to repay their loan.”

      Other associations and entities such as the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP), National Association of Home Builders, Digital Federal Credit Union, National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU), CNB Bank, International Bancshares Corporation, Wisconsin Credit Union League, Highlands Residential Mortgage, among others, share similar views as USMI that setting transparent compensating factors will help expand credit availability for many potential homeowners who may otherwise be left behind.

  • House Financial Services Committee Markup. On September 18-20, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, held a markup hearing in which, along with several issues, they discussed H.R. 123, the “Alternative Data for Additional Credit FHA Pilot Program Reauthorization Act,” and reported the legislation favorably to the House with a 32-22 vote. This bill would reauthorize the HUD statutory authority to implement a pilot program to increase credit access for borrowers with thin or no credit files through the use of additional credit data in the underwriting for FHA-insured mortgages.

Newsletter: August 2019

As the August recess begins, there have been several notable developments in housing finance. Last Thursday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the “Qualified Mortgage (QM) Definition under the Truth in Lending Act” which seeks to revise the QM definition as the GSE Patch nears expiration. Moody’s Investor Service released a proposed update to its residential mortgage-backed security (RMBS) rating methodology which would affect the rating for bonds associated with the GSEs’ CRT transactions and non-agency RMBS. Importantly, the new standard recognizes the loss reducing benefits of private mortgage insurance (MI). The Urban Institute published an article highlighting private MI and the benefits of reducing the severity of losses for those holding mortgage credit risk.

Also, on the regulatory front, as many financial institutions look to implement the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) Current Expected Credit Loss (CECL) accounting standard, FASB has announced proposed changes, including delaying the implementation deadline for private companies as well as small public companies. USMI released an update on the treatment of loan level credit enhancement provided under the CECL standard, providing information to lenders of all sizes on how they might mitigate loss reserve requirements under the new standard. Housing finance reform continues to gain attention in recent weeks with Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria recently giving an update on the timing of the release of the Administration’s plans to reform the housing finance system. Lastly, there have been a number of studies and reports in recent weeks that continue to cite consumers’ misperception that they need a large down payment to qualify for homeownership. USMI published a new column that highlights low down payment mortgage options available to help home-ready borrowers attain sustainable homeownership sooner.

  • CFPB’s ANPR on Qualified Mortgages. On July 25, the CFPB released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the “Qualified Mortgage Definition under the Truth in Lending Act.” The CFPB is considering whether to revise the QM definition in light of the pending expiration of the Temporary GSE QM loan category provision, commonly referred to as the “GSE Patch,” in January 2021. The same statutory product restrictions exist for loans under the Patch as for other QM loans, however these loans are not subject to the 43 percent debt-to-income (DTI) limit—a significant exception that has supported a substantial portion of the overall housing market. As takers of first-loss mortgage credit risk with more than six decades of expertise and experience underwriting and actively managing that risk, USMI members understand the need to balance prudent underwriting using a clear and transparent standard to ensure sustainable lending with the need to maintain access to affordable mortgage finance credit for home-ready borrowers. Following the release of the ANPR, USMI published a blog with observations and recommendations for replacing the GSE Patch.

  • Moody’s releases proposed update to RMBS ratings. Moody’s recently released a proposed update to its RMBS rating methodology which would affect the rating for bonds associated with the GSEs’ CRT transactions and non-agency RMBS. Importantly, the new standard gives more credit to deals with private MI. USMI submitted a letter on July 29 to Moody’s in response to request for comment by Moody’s on the new standard, which among other things commends Moody’s for many of the necessary updates provided in the proposed standard and asks for additional transparency around details about the benefits of MI, the proposed rejection rates, and Moody’s methodology for determining maximum insurance payout and allocation based on an insurer’s rating.

  • Urban Institute publishes article on risk reducing benefits of PMI. Urban Institute released a paper entitled, “Private Mortgage Insurance Reduces the Severity of Losses for Those Holding Risk,” that focuses on Moody’s recent proposed updates to its RMBS rating methodology, which will affect the ratings of bonds for the GSEs’ CRT deals and non-agency RMBS, and would give more credit to deals with MI. In the report, Urban notes, “given the increased focus on the topic, understanding the historical behavior of GSE loans with mortgage insurance is important. Examining Fannie Mae loans from 1999 through the first quarter of 2018, we conclude that PMI reduces the loss severity of loans with high loan-to-value (LTV) ratios by 19 to 24 percentage points—a very substantial reduction. So, it is important to recognize PMI’s contribution when developing measures assessing loan-level risk, giving proper “credit” in sizing capital requirements or assessing subordination levels for securitizations.”

  • Current Expected Credit Loss (CECL) accounting standard. Over the last couple of weeks, FASB has announced several proposed changes for the CECL accounting standard, including delaying the implementation deadline for private companies as well as small public companies (those with a market capitalization below $250 million and annual revenue of less than $100 million). If that proposal is enacted, the standard for those companies would not take effect until January 2023. CECL is a fundamental shift in how loss reserves are accounted for and incurred. Instead of waiting until losses are probable, institutions will forecast losses and establish reserves at the time of origination. The final rule was announced on June 16, 2016 and will impact any financial institution that holds loans on its balance sheet at amortized cost, such as banks, credit unions, and real estate investment trusts (REITs). Public companies filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will need to adopt CECL for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2019, including interim periods within those fiscal years.

    As noted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “CECL is considered by some to be the most significant accounting change in the banking industry in 40 years.” Banking regulators – the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Reserve, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) – jointly issued a final rule on CECL’s implementation and have proposed changing the allowance for home and lease losses as a new defined term.

    Ahead of the implementation, and as lenders look to prepare as the implementation deadline approaches, USMI published a fact sheet on their website to provide information to lenders about the potential impact CECL may have on their books of business and how loan level credit enhancement, such as private MI, can help offset loss reserve requirements.

  • FHFA Director gives update on the Administration’s GSE plan. In March President Trump signed an Executive Order that directed federal agencies, most notably the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to provide both administrative and legislative solutions for modernizing the housing finance system and ending the conservatorships of the GSEs. Recently in an interview with Reuters, FHFA Director Mark Calabria said that he now expects the Administration will release reports developed by the Departments of Treasury and of Housing and Urban Development that outline the Administration’s plan for releasing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from conservatorship to be published at the end of August or early September

    Last fall, USMI released a white paper highlighting several areas of alignment around administrative reform that can be implemented in lieu of comprehensive legislative action by Congress. The specific recommendations proposed by USMI include reducing the duopolistic market power of the GSEs, increasing transparency, expanding private capital and reducing taxpayer risk, and promoting a strong regulator that establishes uniform standards and uses transparent processes to assess the GSEs activities and products.
  • USMI publishes new column on low down payment options. Earlier this month, USMI published a new column, “Buy a home without breaking the bank.” The column highlights the several solutions available to financial obstacles that may arise when buying a home, such as the 20 percent down payment. According to a recent report, 49 percent of non-homeowners stated that not having enough money for a down payment and closing costs was a major obstacle to purchasing a home. But data shows many aspiring homebuyers can afford to buy a home with less than 20 percent. Another survey found that among first-time homebuyers who obtained a mortgage, approximately 80 percent had down payments of less than 20 percent. The article links readers to where consumers can learn about the number of different low down payment mortgage options available to them and how to become “home-ready.”


U.S. Mortgage Insurers (USMI) is dedicated to a housing finance system backed by private capital that enables access to housing finance for borrowers while protecting taxpayers. Mortgage insurance offers an effective way to make mortgage credit available to more people. USMI is ready to help build the future of homeownership. Learn more at

Newsletter: June 2019

Washington is buzzing with activity on the housing finance front, both in market developments and policy discussions as FHFA Director Calabria continues to outline his plans for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“the GSEs”).
Also, June is National Homeownership Month! On June 5, USMI released a new report on how private mortgage insurance (MI) helps borrowers get into homes sooner. Brad Shuster, USMI Chairman and Executive Chairman of the Board of NMI Holdings, Inc., penned an op-ed in The Hill highlighting some key points from the report. In addition, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) finalized their Single Security Initiative to create a common single-family securities program for the GSEs after the launch of the Uniform Mortgage-Backed Security (UMBS). Fannie Mae published the results of a nationally representative survey that revealed most consumers overestimate the requirements to get a mortgage. Lastly, the Senate confirmed two key positions for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Senate Banking Committee scheduled a hearing entitled “Should Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac be Designated as Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs)?”

  • USMI releases state-by-state report on role of private MI. USMI released its second annual report on the role of private MI facilitating low down payment lending in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report found more than 30 million homeowners have been served by MI since 1957, including more than one million people in 2018 alone, and breaks down on a state-by-state basis, low down payment mortgage lending with private MI. It also provides an analysis of how long it would take those borrowers to save for a 20 percent versus a five percent down payment. The report finds that the top five states for the number of borrowers helped by private MI in 2018 were Texas, Florida, California, Illinois, and Ohio. The complete report on MI in the U.S. is available here.
  • Brad Shuster, USMI Chairman and Executive Chairman of the Board of NMI Holdings, Inc, penned an op-ed in The Hill. Shuster celebrated National Homeownership Month with an op-ed in The Hill that highlights the national conversation about how to best reform the U.S. housing finance system to sustain and grow homeownership in a safe and affordable way. Importantly, Shuster highlights the very important role that private MI plays in ensuring home-ready borrowers have access to sustainable low-down payment lending. Mr. Shuster notes that the recently released USMI state-by-state report, “showcases how private MI helps hard-working, home-ready families access the conventional mortgage market, even when they don’t have a large down payment.”

    Shuster also notes the importance for policymakers to understand the “long, time-tested role MI has played as they seek to create a more robust housing finance system. Private MI serves as protection against mortgage credit risk if a borrower defaults on their mortgage.”
  • FHFA sends Annual Report to Congress and Director Calabria calls for legislative reforms. Last week, FHFA sent its Annual Report to Congress, which included Director Calabria’s legislative recommendations for housing finance reform. In the FHFA 2018 Report to Congress, FHFA reported on a number of activities executed over the last year by the GSEs. While the report was drafted (and likely finalized) prior to Director Calabria’s confirmation (FHFA is required to submit the report each year before June 15), the Director wrote an opening letter to Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to reiterate his priorities for the GSEs. Director Calabria underscored the need for reform, stressing that taxpayers remain exposed to undue mortgage credit risk and to urge Congress to enact legislation.

    In the letter, Director Calabria outlined specific recommendations for legislative reforms, including a request for Congress to give him authority to grant new charters to increase competition against the GSEs’ “duopoly” suggesting, “[t]o promote competition, Congress should authorize additional competitors and provide FHFA chartering authority similar to that of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.” He also called for Congress to grant FHFA additional authority to provide oversight of counterparties and suggested that FHFA should have greater discretion over the GSEs’ regulatory capital. While Director Calabria has noted in public speeches that only Congress has the authority to provide for an explicit government guaranty, he did not specifically call for Congress to establish an explicit government guaranty in his letter.
  • The GSEs complete their Single Security Initiative and launch UMBS. Earlier this month, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac officially moved to issue the Uniform Mortgage-Backed Security (UMBS). According to HousingWire, the UMBS is a common security through which the GSEs will finance qualifying fixed-rate mortgage loans backed by one- to four-unit single-family properties. Previously, the GSEs only issued securities through their own programs/platforms, which meant an inevitable disparity and inconsistencies existed between the two. Fannie Mae’s program has historically been far more liquid than Freddie Mac’s, which created an imbalance between their trading volumes. Under the new initiative, FHFA will require Freddie Mac to remit homeowners’ mortgage payments to investors in 55 days rather than 45, which is consistent with Fannie Mae’s guidelines.

    Following the launch, Renee Schultz, Senior Vice President of Capital Markets at Fannie Mae, released a statement calling the launch “a major milestone that marks the successful implementation of the Single Security Initiative.” FHFA Deputy Director Robert Fishman stated, “[b]y addressing structural issues and trading disparities, the UMBS will benefit taxpayers and the nation’s housing finance system.”
  • Fannie Mae consumer survey finds knowledge gap to obtain a mortgage. On June 5, Fannie Mae published the results of a survey of 3,647 Americans which found that most consumers vastly overestimate the requirements to obtain a mortgage. “The lack of mortgage qualification understanding is pervasive, even among current homeowners, those who say they are actively planning to purchase a home in the next three years, and those who successfully answered questions testing general financial literacy,” the researchers wrote. For example, when asked how much money a borrower is required to put down, 40% said they didn’t know. Of those who did have an idea, they cited 10% as a required minimum.  
  • Senate Banking Focuses on the GSEs as SIFIs. The Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a hearing entitled “Should Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac be Designated as Systemically Important Financial Institutions?” The hearing is timely given FHFA Director Calabria has repeatedly said “the path out of conservatorships that we will establish for Fannie and Freddie is not going to be calendar dependent. It will be driven, first and foremost, by their ability to raise capital.” It also comes as policymakers and stakeholders wait for FHFA action following the agency’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Enterprise Capital Framework that was released last summer and for which the comment period closed in November 2018. USMI submitted a comment letter, which can be found here.
  • Senate confirms HUD nominees. Finally, yesterday, the Senate voted to confirm two HUD nominees: Seth Appleton to be the Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research; and Robert Hunter Kurtz to the be the Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing.