USMI Roundup: Developments in Housing Finance
It’s a good day to be a Washington Capitals fan! #ALLCAPS #ROCKTHERED! As summer heats up, so do several issues and developments in the housing industry. This week USMI released a new report on how private mortgage insurance (MI) has helped nearly 30 million homeowners nationwide for more than 60 years. In addition, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) received a number of comment letters on its Notice of Regulatory Review process, including from USMI and the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), among others. Housing has also been a big topic in Congress lately as the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Brian Montgomery as the new Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Commissioner, and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s (the GSEs) 10 years of conservatorship. And last but certainly not least, June is National Homeownership Month and we recognize the National Fair Housing Alliance, which will host its annual conference next week that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.
- USMI releases new report on private MI’s role in homeownership nationwide. USMI released a national report on the role of private MI in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report found that nearly 30 million homeowners have been served by MI for more than 60 years, and breaks down low down payment mortgage lending with MI in all 50 states. The report also underscores the historic importance of MI, how MI has helped promote homebuying in the U.S. especially with first-time buyers, and the protections that MI provides to American taxpayers and the federal government. The complete report on MI in the U.S. is available here. All 50 states fact sheets, plus data for the District of Columbia, are available here.
- Trades, including USMI and MBA, submit comment letters on FHFA Notice of Regulatory Review. This week, USMI submitted a comment letter to the FHFA on its Notice of Regulatory Review as part of the agency’s five-year Regulatory Review Plan, which identifies agency rules that should be changed or modified. In its letter, USMI suggests that FHFA should reassess its “Prior Approval for Enterprise Products” interim final rule for the GSEs, because though the regulation establishes a process for the GSEs to obtain prior approval from the FHFA for new products—and provide prior notice to the FHFA for new activities—the regulation is “unused [since its implementation in 2009] and apparently not fit for purpose.” USMI argues that “new activities and products have the potential to significantly impact many stakeholders in the housing finance ecosystem—GSEs, lenders, private mortgage insurers, borrowers, and the American taxpayer” and therefore “stakeholders should not have to rely on mechanisms that sidestep the Administrative Procedure Act such as ‘requests for input’ to offer feedback on new activities and programs proposed by the GSEs.” Further, USMI notes that since becoming conservator of the GSEs in 2008, FHFA has not addressed the interaction between its regulatory and conservatorship authorities. For these reasons, USMI urges FHFA to “withdraw the Regulation and resubmit a new proposed rule for a formal notice and comment period with additional clarity on the FHFA’s role and authority as conservator and regulator of the GSEs, as well as a workable approach for assessing new activities and products.”
As reported by Inside Mortgage Finance (subscription), MBA also submitted a comment letter urging FHFA to require public disclosure on “any notice” of new business activities being planned by the GSEs. Among other things, MBA asks that FHFA specify the factors and metrics it will consider when determining whether a new activity constitutes as a new product or new activity, and specifically calls on FHFA to modify the manner in which it addresses new activities characterized as “pilots.”
- Brian Montgomery confirmed as new FHA Commissioner. Brian Montgomery, a respected housing expert and seasoned mortgage finance professional, was confirmed in a widely bipartisan vote to serve as President Trump’s FHA Commissioner. Commissioner Montgomery, who previously served as FHA Commissioner in the George W. Bush administration, will be responsible for overseeing the more than $1 trillion of insurance in force at the FHA as well as addressing some of the challenges facing the FHA going forward.
Upon Commissioner Montgomery’s confirmation, USMI President Lindsey Johnson released a statement praising the Senate confirmation of the new FHA Commissioner: “USMI applauds the Senate for its bipartisan vote to confirm Brian Montgomery to serve as FHA Commissioner… We look forward to working closely and collaboratively with Commissioner Montgomery to create a more coordinated, consistent, and transparent housing system – a system that can expand private capital’s role in shouldering more risk in front of taxpayers in the housing market.”
- Senate holds hearing on “Ten Years of Conservatorship” of the GSEs. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs recently held a hearing entitled “Ten Years of Conservatorship: The Status of the Housing Finance System,” in which FHFA Director Mel Watt testified on the GSEs’ activities over the last ten years under federal control. During his testimony, Director Watt said that FHFA has “worked with the Enterprises to develop a Conservator Capital Framework [CCF] that establishes aligned capital guidelines for both Enterprises across different mortgage loan and asset categories” and that FHFA uses the CCF to assess GSE guaranty fees, activities, and operations. Director Watt suggested that, as regulator, he believes it is important for FHFA to “articulate a view on prudential capital requirements for the Enterprises.” Director Watt suggested that FHFA will release for public comment a proposed rule for post-conservatorship risk-based capital and minimum leverage capital requirements.
During the question and answer portion of the hearing, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) focused on the CCF and asked if Director Watt agreed that “capital for these institutions should be fairly close at least to some of the larger banking institutions.” Senator Corker also spoke to the GSEs’ footprint, suggesting that “there are some areas where it [the footprint] has expanded… We have a situation now where Freddie Mac is now lending, they have become a lender their servicers.” Senator Corker noted “some of the pilot programs over the last five years have actually expanded the role of the two GSEs,” specifically pointing to Fannie Mae’s recent increase in debt-to-income ratios and its “financing Airbnb” as examples of expansions of the GSEs in the marketplace. Senator Corker said, “there has actually been an expansion of mission, and so while we have gotten the portfolios down it appears that instead of trying to decrease the footprint over time, over the last five years we are beginning to, especially in the last couple years, expand the mission.”
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) asked Director Watt about the recent release of the IMAGIN product into the market place, and specifically “why there was not maybe even a traditional rulemaking process or a period of public comment to consider this.” Senator Toomey also questioned the recent financing of mortgage service companies, noting that “this looks like new kinds of activities, new practices, where we have not seen an explanation, an opportunity to comment and to get public input on.” Director Watt responded that “if I took public comment on every pilot that we did, we would never do any.” Senator Toomey ended his line of questions by asking Director Watt to respond in writing with an explanation for the rationale behind the program.
- National Fair Housing Alliance celebrates 50th Anniversary of Fair Housing Act. The National Fair Housing Alliance will hold its annual conference next week celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. The conference, titled “The Fair Housing Act at 50: Making Every Neighborhood a Place of Opportunity” will be held June 9 through 12 and aims to bring together thought leaders and experts on civil and human rights, housing, lending, insurance, education, transportation, health, environmental justice, and community development to examine achievements made under the Fair Housing Act. The conference will also observe the current barriers to fair housing and inclusion, and what is on the horizon in the coming years. More information about the events commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act can be found here.
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 www.usmi.org.