Here is a roundup of recent news in the housing finance industry. The Trump administration released its 2018 federal budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mel Watt and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified before the U.S. Senate on potential GSE reform, USMI and numerous other housing industry groups voiced their support for the nomination of Pam Patenaude to serve as Deputy Secretary of HUD, and several third party groups released white papers on access to affordable mortgage credit and housing finance reform.
- Trump Administration Releases 2018 Federal Budget Proposal for HUD. The Trump administration released its 2018 federal budget proposal for HUD, which includes $6.2 billion – or 13.2 percent – in cuts to the agency. The cuts would be implemented through rental assistance reforms, the elimination of funding for certain programs, and through the streamlining of internal operations. The budget includes $160 million for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to improve risk management and program support processes, and would also provide $30 million towards modernizing the FHA’s system and updating its programming language.
- FHFA Director Watt Calls for GSE Reform. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, FHFA Director Mel Watt called for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the “GSEs”) to be taken out of government conservatorship as soon as possible. Watt warned of future potential GSE draws on the line of credit at Treasury as the GSEs currently have a very limited capital buffer and are scheduled to go to zero capital in 2018. Watt expressly noted that Congress should be responsible for achieving housing finance reform, not the FHFA.
- Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Testifies in Senate. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs where he too was questioned on the topic of housing finance reform. Mnuchin said that GSE reform would be a priority in the second half of the year for the Trump administration and noted that he and the administration would work with Congress on reform efforts. Notably, Mnuchin stated that he expects the GSEs to continue to pay dividends to the Treasury Department despite statements made the previous week by FHFA Director Watt, who said he might allow the GSEs to retain profits in order to build capital buffers against potential future losses.
- Housing Industry Groups Support Pam Patenaude’s Nomination to HUD. Numerous housing industry associations expressed their support for the Trump administration’s nomination of Pam Patenaude as Deputy Secretary of HUD, including Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), National Association of Realtors (NAR), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), among others. In a letter provided to Senate Banking Committee members last week, USMI similarly voiced its support for Patenaude’s nomination. USMI’s Chairman Patrick Sinks, President and CEO of MGIC, said of the nomination:“USMI encourages members of the Senate Banking Committee to approve Mrs. Patenaude’s nomination and to move it expeditiously to the Senate floor… Mrs. Patenaude understands the housing finance system and the need for a coordinated, consistent and transparent approach to federal housing policy across government channels. Her leadership on these important issues will ensure that Americans have greater access to mortgage finance credit for borrowers, while at the same time, increasing private capital in mortgage finance and reducing taxpayer risk exposure.”
- New GSE Reform Proposals Released by Third Party Groups. In the last week, several organizations interested in GSE matters released white papers on housing finance reform for policymakers and industry stakeholders to consider. These groups include the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Milken Institute, and Moelis & Co. LLC.
Here is a roundup of recent news in the housing finance industry. USMI’s Lindsey Johnson interviews USMI Board Chairman Patrick Sinks on the 60th anniversary of the private mortgage insurance (MI) industry. Additionally, a recent congressional bill aimed at promoting greater transparency at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs) was passed by the House of Representatives, President Trump announced his nomination for Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) released a new report on reform recommendations for the GSEs and housing finance system.
- Private Mortgage Insurance Industry Turns 60. This week, USMI published a Q&A between USMI President and Executive Director Lindsey Johnson and USMI Chairman and Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp. (MGIC) CEO Patrick Sinks. In their discussion, Johnson and Sinks discuss the past, present, and future of the MI industry, and how MI has helped people affordably become homeowners for 60 years.
- House Bill Aims to Open GSE Records to FOIA. This week, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1694, the Fannie and Freddie Open Records Act of 2017, by a unanimous vote. H.R. 1694, introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), would mandate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to accept and process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the public, and release information to satisfy FOIA requests as long as they remain under federal conservatorship.
- President Trump Announces Deputy Secretary of HUD Nomination. Today, President Trump announced the nomination of Pamela Patenaude to be Deputy Secretary of HUD. Patenaude is currently the President of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for America’s Families and previously served as Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission. USMI issued the following statement on Patenaude’s nomination:“Pam Patenaude is a strong choice to serve as Deputy Secretary for HUD. Throughout her career, she has been a proven leader on housing issues and will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the agency. USMI looks forward to working with Pam on the important issues facing the housing finance industry.”
- MBA Releases New Report on Reform Recommendations for GSEs and Housing Finance System. This week, MBA released a report outlining its recommendations to reform the GSEs and the housing finance system. The report covers many areas such as the value of loan-level credit enhancement and the benefit of private MI, as well as promotes greater use of front-end credit risk sharing including through private MI. The report also recognizes the important functions of private market participants and reinforces that there should be a bright line between the functions of private market participants in the primary market and those of secondary market participants. In a statement on the report, USMI President Lindsey Johnson said:“USMI is pleased to see MBA and other industry, trade and consumer groups provide ideas and proposals for how to reform the housing finance system and we look forward to continuing to work with MBA and others to promote reforms to the housing finance system to put more private capital in front of taxpayer risk and to create a more sustainable housing finance system that works for market participants, taxpayers and consumers. For 60 years, MI has provided effective credit risk protection for our nation’s mortgage finance system. This time-tested form of private capital should be the preferred method of absorbing credit loss in front of any government guaranty, helping to minimize taxpayer risk while ensuring mortgage credit remains accessible.”
On October 13, the comment period closed for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)’s Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer (CRT) Request for Input (RFI). Below is a roundup of the comment letters submitted by USMI and numerous other housing finance organizations that expressed support behind efforts to reduce government, and therefore taxpayers’, risk exposure by positioning more private capital in a “first loss” position ahead of the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) through expanded mortgage insurance.
- USMI notes in its comment letter the distinct advantages of front-end CRT done through expanded use of MI: “Increasing the proportion of front-end CRT in the Enterprises’ CRT strategy will advance four key objectives of a well-functioning housing finance system by ensuring that: (1) a substantial measure of private capital loss protection is available in bad times as well as good; (2) such private capital absorbs and deepens protection against first losses before the government and taxpayers; (3) all sizes and types of financial institutions have equitable access to CRT; and (4) CRT costs are transparent, thereby enhancing borrower access to affordable mortgage credit.” These comments were further highlighted in an article by the Mortgage Professional America magazine. The full comment letter is available here. USMI’s RFI fact sheet can be found here.
Following the submission of USMI’s comment letter, an op-ed by USMI President Lindsey Johnson was published in The Hill that echoes the benefits provided to the GSEs and US taxpayers by front-end CRT through expanded use of MI.
- A number of other stakeholders and organizations also weighed in, supporting efforts to expand the use of MI:
- Urban Institute wrote: “The GSEs could share additional credit risk through this channel by having some MIs cover a deeper level of first loss, down to, say, an effective LTV of 50%. So-called deep cover MI has several attractive features. First, it extends a structure already in wide use, making it easy for lenders of all sizes to adopt. Second, in contract to the front-end structures used to date, it is equally available to and can be equally priced for lenders of all sizes. Third, it is completely transparent… Since mortgage insurance is the only product MIs offer, they will provide capital in good times and bad.”
- National Association of Home Builders wrote: “Deep coverage MI would allow mortgage insurance companies to reduce the Enterprises’ exposure to credit losses to as low as 50 percent of the mortgage loan amount. The Enterprises would reduce their guarantee fees on the mortgage loans commensurate with the cost of the risk they transfer to the mortgage insurers. The reduced guarantee fee charged by the Enterprises in exchange for incurring less credit risk can be passed on to consumers, reducing the cost of the mortgage loans and increasing the availability of credit.”
- Mortgage Bankers Association wrote: “Up-front risk-sharing structures with committed mortgage market participants such as lenders, mortgage Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and mortgage insurers can distribute mortgage credit risk prior to the loan(s) being acquired by the GSEs, while offering potential borrower benefits… Well-conceived up-front risk sharing pilot programs, such as expanded lender recourse offerings, deeper mortgage insurance or other capital markets structures that are executed prior to GSE acquisition, can help the GSEs better determine which transaction structures are best able to expand the sources of private capital and withstand both the peaks and valleys in the credit cycle.” These comments were further highlighted in an article by Scotsman Guide.
- Community Mortgage Lenders of America wrote: “There is no substitute for the depth of experience, the broad web of customer relationships and level of service that the MI industry provides to lenders, nor to the key role played by mortgage insurers in facilitating low down payment lending for borrowers whose home finance needs are served with a low down payment mortgage.”
- Credit Union National Association wrote: “… private mortgage insurance needs to be maintained as an option as it can be utilized as an effective risk transfer strategy.”
- Housing Policy Council wrote: “We specifically recommend that FHFA and the Enterprise test deeper mortgage insurance through a pilot program. Of the various structures discussed in the RFI, only deeper mortgage insurance has yet to be tested in the marketplace.”
In addition, last week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report entitled “The Effects of Increasing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Capital.” The October 20th report came at the request of Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and analyzes a policy that would allow the GSEs to increase their capital by reducing payments to Treasury, as well as discusses the effects it would have on the federal budget and the U.S. mortgage market.