Newsletter: April 2019

April 2, 2019

It has been a busy week in Washington with renewed attention on housing finance reform in both Congress and the Administration. This week, the Senate Banking Committee (SBC) held two hearings on Chairman Mike Crapo’s (R-ID) Housing Reform Outline, where USMI President Lindsey Johnson appeared as an expert witness on the second day of hearings. Prior to testifying at the hearing, Johnson published a blog on the importance of private mortgage insurance (MI) to borrowers and taxpayers in any reformed housing finance system. On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) announced the Committee’s hearings for the first two weeks of April, several of which will address affordable housing. On Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum initiating housing reform in the housing finance system. There were also developments at the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs). The FHA told lenders this month that it is tightening standards on government-backed mortgages due to concerns of increasingly risky loans, while the GSEs both appointed new chief executive officers.

  • USMI’s President testifies before the Senate Banking Committee. This week, the SBC held two hearings to discuss Chairman Crapo’s Housing Reform Outline. USMI President Lindsey Johnson testified before the committee on the second day of hearings, addressing the Chairman’s Outline and discussing the role private MI can play in a reformed housing finance system. USMI’s testimony specifically outlined the consistencies between Chairman Crapo’s Outline and USMI’s own principles, including ensuring access for creditworthy borrowers and all lenders, increasing transparency, and protecting taxpayers. Johnson also made several recommendations before the committee, chief among them that any proposal should rely on loan-level credit enhancement at origination done by entities that can manage mortgage credit risk through all market cycles.
  • During the hearing, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) brought up the issue of down payments and how Americans are in many cases unable to save enough to buy a home, and specifically asked what can be done about the problem and what are models out there for down payment assistance programs. Johnson answered Sen. Jones, saying, “We think that that is an enormous challenge; it’s specifically what our industry is focused on – is bridging that gap between an individual bringing 20 percent to the closing table and actually having access to the conventional market. And you think about the time that it takes for that individual to save that down payment, we’ve tracked that data and we’ve found that it takes two decades for a firefighter, a teacher in many areas to save that up. For minorities, we know that it’s even longer. So, we really have to make sure there are low down payment options available in the market.”

  • Following Johnson’s remarks, President Elect of the National Association of REALTORS® Vince Malta also noted the importance of MI, stating, “There are vehicles out there that can assist with lower down payment loans that are working very well in the marketplace, a combination of private capital through MI and sound underwriting standards. Those are the guides to homeownership.” The hearings demonstrated a near universal opposition to recapitalizing and releasing the GSEs, an action that Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) characterized as “recreat[ing] the old status quo and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Further, there was broad support among the witnesses for restructuring the GSEs as highly regulated utility-like entities to increase transparency, limit the GSEs’ activities to secondary market functions, and ensure that certain protections—such as equitable pricing for lenders of all sizes and types—are maintained.  The full list of witnesses and their testimonies can be found here.
  • USMI releases blog on importance of MI in the housing finance system. USMI President Lindsey Johnson published a blog this week ahead of the SBC hearings on Chairman Mike Crapo’s Housing Reform Outline that highlights the critical role private MI plays in housing finance reform, with particular emphasis on how private MI benefits homebuyers and protects taxpayers. The blog states that with the recent activity in the housing reform debate, now more than ever private MI will continue to play its invaluable role in providing access to credit and unparalleled taxpayer protection.
  • President Trump signs memorandum initiating reform of the housing finance system. On March 27, President Trump signed a memorandum calling for relevant agencies to develop a reform plan for the housing finance system. According to the memorandum, these reforms will seek to end the conservatorship of the GSEs and improve regulatory oversight over them, promote competition in the housing finance market, create a system that encourages sustainable homeownership, and protect taxpayers against bailouts. The Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson will be tasked with addressing their respective issues and are expected to submit reform plans as soon as practicable. In the fall of 2018, USMI released Areas of Alignment for Administrative Reformthat highlighted a number of specific steps the Administration can and should take before allowing the GSEs to build capital and be released from conservatorship.  A list of the 11 specific steps can be found here
  • House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman releases early April hearing schedule. HFSC Chairwoman Waters published the Committee’s calendar of hearings for the first two week of April, three of which will focus on housing. One of the hearings, entitled “The Fair Housing Act: Reviewing Efforts to Eliminate Discrimination and Promote Opportunity in Housing,” will be with the full committee. The other hearings, one entitled “The Affordable Housing Crisis in Rural America: Assessing the Federal Response” and another entitled “The Community Reinvestment Act: Assessing the Law’s Impact on Discrimination and Redlining,” will be with the Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance and Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions, respectively.
  • FHA tightens underwriting standards on government-backed mortgages. In an about-face for a 2016 decision, the FHA has decided to tighten its underwriting and lending standards due to concerns that it is allowing too many risky loans to be insured. The FHA has observed extensive risk layering in recent years and this action is intended to ensure the FHA’s financial stability for years to come. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FHA “told lenders this month it would begin flagging more loans as high risk. Those mortgages, many of which are extended to borrowers with low credit scores and high loan payments relative to their incomes, will now go through a more rigorous manual underwriting process…” The FHA stated in its letter that the “announcement comes after Federal Housing Commissioner Montgomery publicly stated numerous times in recent months that FHA must seek the right balance between managing risk and fulfilling its mission of supporting sustainable homeownership.”
  • Fannie and Freddie announce newly appointed CEOs. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced the appointments of their new CEOs following their individual six-month searches. Fannie Mae appointed as its CEO commercial mortgage executive Hugh Frater, who joined Fannie’s board of directors in 2016 and served as interim CEO for several months after Tim Mayopoulos stepped down in October 2018. Meanwhile, Freddie Mac’s board of directors named its current president David Brickman as its new CEO, succeeding Donald Layton, who will retire in July. Brickman was promoted to president in September 2018 and has been with Freddie Mac since 1999.