Newsletter: December 2017

December 8, 2017

As 2017 wraps up, there continue to be many developments in the housing finance system. On Capitol Hill, recent hearings before the House Financial Services Committee’s (HFSC) Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance featured top experts tackling the most pressing issues in the housing market. USMI Chairman Patrick Sinks (who is also CEO of Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corp.) testified to discuss the importance of increasing private capital in the housing finance system as Congress considers reform proposals. Ginnie Mae Acting President Michael Bright also testified and touted the value of private capital in the housing market, as well as the value of front-end risk sharing, such as with private mortgage insurance (MI). Separately, HFSC Chairman Jeb Hensarling expressed support for moving forward with bipartisan housing reform. In another notable development on the Hill, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee gave its bipartisan approval for Brian Montgomery to be President Trump’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner. His nomination now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Another significant FHA development is the announcement that its loan limit would increase by roughly 7 percent. America’s Homeowner Alliance Managing Director Tino Diaz wrote a thoughtful op-ed about the FHA’s role in the housing finance system. Diaz’s op-ed highlights the need for the FHA to keep its important risk safeguards in place despite Congressional legislation that seeks to weaken these protections. 

  • USMI Chairman Patrick Sinks Testifies Before Congress in Housing Finance Reform Hearing—Part IV. This week, USMI Chairman and MGIC CEO Patrick Sinks testified on behalf of USMI in front of the HFSC Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance in a hearing entitled “Sustainable Housing Finance: Private Sector Perspectives on Housing Finance Reform, Part IV.” Sinks highlighted the role that private MI has played in the housing finance system, and discussed the MI industry’s performance through the Great Recession, the key improvements made by the industry that make it more resilient going forward, and the industry’s ability to play a larger role in a reformed system. In addition, Sinks proposed specific principles for housing finance reform, lessons that should be applied to all market participants, and recommendations to increase the role of private capital in the housing finance system to further protect taxpayers and ensure borrowers’ continued access to affordable and prudent low-down payment mortgage credit.
     In a statement, USMI President and Executive Director Lindsey Johnson said: “Private MI has been an invaluable piece of the housing finance system for a long time, decades longer than any other low down payment model being tested. Fortunately, our industry is strong and ready to shoulder an even greater responsibility in the system moving forward. We appreciate Congress’ work to address long overdue reforms to the housing finance system and USMI members look forward to continuing and enhancing the credit risk protection MI provides to shield taxpayers from mortgage credit risk and promote homeownership across the country.”
  • House and Senate Seem Poised to Advance Bipartisan Housing Finance Reform. Speaking at a housing finance reform event hosted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and S&P, HFSC Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) expressed support for moving ahead with bipartisan housing finance reform. Alluding to the likely direction that Republicans may pursue for reform, Chairman Hensarling touted the Ginnie Mae model, which builds off proposals promoted by former Ginnie Mae President Ted Tozer, former Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Acting Director Ed DeMarco, and current Ginnie Mae Acting President Michael Bright.Hensarling specifically said: “I don’t want a government guarantee, I don’t think we need a government affordable housing program but in surveying the political landscape I know they will exist in any bipartisan effort.”  Demonstrating bipartisan support for elements of housing finance reform, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) said, “This is an area of policy where I think the divisions that manifest on this committee might be able to be overcome and I want to encourage the leadership of this subcommittee to continue on that path; as long as we know the direction we are going I think there is enough common ground for us to try to knit together some policy that we can all work together on… in a bipartisan fashion.”
  • Acting Ginnie Mae President Michael Bright Touts Private MI and Increased Risk Sharing.  Ginnie Mae’s Acting President Michael Bright testified before the HFSC in a hearing entitled “Sustainable Housing Finance: The Role of Ginnie Mae in the Housing Finance System.” During his testimony, Bright discussed potential Ginnie Mae reforms, the entity’s financial portfolio, as well as VA loan refinancing. Importantly, Bright was asked several questions by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) on the role of private MI in the housing finance system.Bright acknowledged that credit risk transfers at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the “GSEs”) are bringing more private capital into the housing finance system and agreed with Rep. Royce that Ginnie Mae and the GSEs have the legal authority to do more front-end risk sharing. Bright also said that he believes credit risk transfers are the biggest success story in the secondary mortgage market in the last five years, and that anything that can be done to lock in those gains is smart policy.
  • FHA Commissioner Nominee Brian Montgomery Approved by Senate Banking Committee. The U.S. Senate Banking Committee approved Brian Montgomery to be FHA Commissioner in a bipartisan vote of 18 to 5. Montgomery, a longtime housing finance expert who previously served as FHA Commissioner under President George W. Bush, will now be considered by the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Today, 46 housing organizations sent a letter to House and Senate leaders urging that the Senate bring Montgomery’s nomination to the Senate Floor for a vote as soon as possible.USMI has specifically applauded Montgomery’s views that private capital should play a leading role in guaranteeing low down payment mortgage credit risk to protect U.S. taxpayers and the federal government, as well as his previous statement that the FHA “should never take the place of the private sector first-loss solution provided by private mortgage insurers.”
  • America’s Homeowner Alliance Publishes Op-Ed on Need to Retain FHA Risk Safeguards. AHA Managing Director Tino Diaz recently published an op-ed calling for the preservation of FHA risk safeguards in the housing finance system. In his op-ed, Diaz highlights the critical role the FHA has played serving underserved borrowers in the housing finance system, but calls attention to recent misguided efforts to change the FHA’s successful risk protections. Diaz specifically discusses Congressional legislation introduced that seeks to eliminate the FHA’s life of loan mortgage insurance premium (MIP) policy, which is critical to protecting U.S. taxpayers and the federal government from risky FHA loans, all of which are 100 percent government-backed.The op-ed comes the same week the FHA announced that its loan limits will increase in nearly all zip codes across the country—increasing roughly seven percent to $679,650 in many high-cost areas. Diaz’s op-ed takes on even greater importance in light of the FHA’s recent annual report to Congress, which showed the fiscal health of the FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund in a weaker financial position than it was last year and woefully undercapitalized compared to its private sector counterparts. As such, any changes to the FHA’s life of loan policy or reductions to its MIP collection would expose taxpayers and the government to increased mortgage credit risk.