Newsletter: June 2019

June 21, 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.