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On April 15, Mark Calabria was sworn in as the new Director of the FHFA and stressed the importance of mortgage finance reform in his first remarks in the role. Calabria warned that the current mortgage finance system remains “vulnerable,” noting that “[a]fter years of strong house price growth, too many remain locked out of housing, while others are dangerously leveraged. We must not let this opportunity for reform pass.” Calabria also acknowledged the March memo released by the White House, outlining the Administration’s plan for federal housing finance reform (covered by InfoBytes here) which, among other things, directs the Secretary of the Treasury to develop a plan to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Calabria stated that he looks forward to working with the Administration on such reforms.
On March 27, the White House released a Memorandum on Federal Housing Finance Reform, which directs the Secretary of the Treasury to develop a plan to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Specifically, the memo states that the U.S. housing finance system is “in urgent need of reform,” as taxpayers are “potentially exposed to future bailouts” and programs at HUD have outdated operations and are “potentially overexposed to risk.” The President directs the Treasury and HUD to create specific plans addressing a number of reforms “as soon as practical.” Among other things, the directives include:
- Treasury to reform GSEs. With the ultimate goal of ending the conservatorships, the memo directs Treasury to develop proposals to, among other things, (i) preserve access to 30 year fix-rate mortgages for qualified homebuyers; (ii) establish appropriate capital and liquidity requirements for the GSEs; (iii) increase private sector participation in the mortgage market; (iv) evaluate the “QM Patch” with the HUD Secretary and CFPB Director; and (v) set conditions necessary to end conservatorships.
- HUD to reform programs. In addition to outlining specific objectives, the memo directs HUD to achieve three goals: (i) ensure that the FHA and the Government National Mortgage Association (GNMA) assume the primary responsibility for providing housing finance support for low income or underserved families; (ii) improve risk management, program, and product design to reduce taxpayer exposure; and (iii) modernize the operations of the FHA and GNMA.
Similarly, on March 26 and 27, the Senate Banking Committee held a two-part hearing (here and here) on housing finance reform. The hearing reviewed the legislative plan released by Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) in February. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the plan would, among other things, end the GSEs conservatorships, make the GSEs private guarantors, and allow other nonbank private guarantors to enter the market. Additionally, the plan would (i) restructure FHFA as a bipartisan board of directors, which would charter, regulate, and supervise all private guarantors; (ii) place a percentage cap on all outstanding mortgages for guarantors; and (iii) replace current housing goals and duty-to-serve requirements with a fund intended to address housing needs of underserved communities. In his opening statement at the hearing, Crapo said that, “approximately 70 percent of all mortgages originated in this country are in some way touched by the federal government” and “the status quo is not a viable option” for the housing finance market. Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) emphasized that “any changes we consider must strengthen, not weaken, our ability to address the housing challenges facing our nation and make the housing market work better for families.”
Over the two days, the Senators and witnesses discussed the positive objectives of Crapo’s plan while recognizing hurdles that exist in implementing housing finance reform. While many Senators and witnesses expressed support for a requirement that private guarantors serve a national market, others suggested that regionalized or specialized guarantors could have advantages, including reaching underserved markets. Many Democrats stressed the importance of keeping a catastrophic government guarantee in place, while Republicans emphasized the need for legislative reforms to be implemented as soon as possible. With respect to equal access for small lenders, Senators discussed the concern over credit unions being able to sell loans in a multiple guarantor market.
On March 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted a national bank’s motion to dismiss a former associate vice president/lending manager’s whistleblower claims that it violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by submitting fraudulent claims and providing false information about loan applications to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The whistleblower alleged that the bank (i) knowingly submitted fraudulent claims for payment to the U.S. government; (ii) told Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that the applications met underwriting standards; and (iii) later terminated his employment as retaliation for notifying his superiors about the alleged false statements. However, according to the court, the whistleblower failed to sufficiently plead that the bank actually submitted the false claims, did not provide enough specificity as to whom the bank sent the alleged false claims to, and failed to “allege specific facts that link [the bank’s] fraudulent conduct to a claim submitted to the government.” Moreover, the court stated that under the FCA’s public disclosure bar, a whistleblower cannot base his case on allegations raised in prior litigation or publically disclosed information, and identified several similarities between the whistleblower’s allegations and previously disclosed claims. Because the whistleblower’s FCA claims failed, the retaliation claims were also dismissed.
On February 28, the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA) issued a final rule that requires government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) to harmonize programs, policies, and practices affecting the cash flows of To-Be-Announced (TBA)-eligible mortgage-backed securities (MBS). The final rule—which codifies requirements that take effect May 6—takes into account commenter feedback by, among other things, making explicit the consequences of misalignment and directing the GSEs to lower the maximum mortgage note rate eligible for MBS inclusion. The final rule applies to both the GSEs’ current offerings of TBA MBS, as well as to the new uniform MBS, which the GSEs will start issuing June 3 (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
On February 6, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each issued selling policy updates through SEL-2019-01 and Bulletin 2019-4, respectively. According to Fannie Mae’s Selling Guide announcement, the Guide has been updated to include (i) a change from the Quality Assurance System to the Loan Quality Connect platform for post-purchase reviews; (ii) changes to reflect the retirement of the Cost of Funds Index in January 2020; and (iii) a clarification that completion escrow accounts, which are required for construction that is not complete when the related mortgage is delivered to Fannie Mae, must be custodial accounts that satisfy the criteria in the Fannie Mae Servicing Guide.
Freddie Mac’s Bulletin included selling updates regarding, among other things, (i) changes to the Condominium Project requirements; (ii) updates to commission income treatment based on tax law changes; and (iii) updates to the Certificate of Incumbency forms for sellers and servicers.
On February 1, Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Mike Crapo (R-ID) released an outline for a sweeping legislative overhaul of the U.S. housing finance system. Most notably, the plan would end the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) conservatorships, making the GSEs private guarantors while also allowing other nonbank private guarantors to enter the market. Highlights of the proposal include:
- Guarantors. The GSEs would be private companies, competing against other nonbanks for mortgages, subject to a percentage cap. The multifamily arms of the GSEs would be sold and operated as independent guarantors. Consistent with current GSE policy, the eligible mortgages would, among other things, be subject to loan limits set by FHFA and would be required to have an LTV of no more than 80 percent unless the borrower obtains private mortgage insurance.
- Regulation of Guarantors. FHFA, structured as a bi-partisan board of directors, would charter, regulate, and supervise all private guarantors, including the former GSEs. FHFA would be required to create prudential standards that include (i) leverage requirements; (ii) if appropriate, risk-based capital requirements; (iii) liquidity requirements; (iv) overall risk management requirements; (v) resolution plan requirements; (vi) concentration limits; and (vii) stress tests. Guarantors would be allowed to fail.
- Ginnie Mae. Ginnie Mae would operate the mortgage securitization platform and a mortgage insurance fund. Additionally, Ginnie Mae would provide a catastrophic government guarantee to cover tail-end risk, backed by the full-faith and credit of the U.S.
- Transition. In addition to a cap on the percent of all outstanding eligible mortgages, the legislation would require guarantors to be fully capitalized within an unspecified number of years after enactment.
- Affordable housing. Current housing goals and duty-to-serve requirements would be eliminated and replaced with a “Market Access Fund,” which is intended to address the homeownership and rental needs of underserved and low-income communities.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, on January 29, Chairman Crapo released the Senate Banking Committee’s agenda, which also prioritizes housing finance reform.
On January 25, top Democratic Congressional leaders, Maxine Waters and Sherrod Brown, wrote to acting Director of the FHFA, Joseph Otting, requesting that he clarify and expand on his reported remarks concerning the administration’s plan to move Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (collectively, “GSEs”) out of conservatorship. Specifically, Otting reportedly told FHFA employees that he would soon announce a plan to move the GSEs out from under government control and that he was given a “clear mission” outlined by Treasury and the White House of “what they want to accomplish” with the agency. Waters and Brown expressed concern about Otting’s ability to lead the agency independently based on these comments, as well as a recent filing of the agency with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stating that the agency would no longer defend the constitutionality of the FHFA’s structure. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Waters and Brown also requested that Otting submit by February 1 a copy of the “mission that Treasury and the White House have outlined.” In response, Otting stated that he appreciated the Democratic leaders’ interest in housing finance, outlined the statutory duties of the FHFA, and welcomed input as they “begin the journey of evaluating the Enterprises and developing a framework for ending conservatorship.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June 2018, the White House announced a government reorganization plan titled, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.” The plan covers a wide-range of government reorganization proposals, including a proposal to end the conservatorship of the GSEs and fully privatize the companies.
On January 16, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, in consultation with the FHFA, issued additional temporary guidance on selling policies that may be impacted during the government shutdown.
Freddie Mac Bulletin 2019-3 provides revisions to temporary guidance previously announced in Bulletin 2019-1 (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), and notifies sellers of temporary changes to certain Guide requirements to further assist impacted borrowers. Due to the length of the shutdown, Freddie Mac has added a minimum reserves requirement in order to offset the risk associated with a borrower’s interruption of income. Sellers must document the greater of two months reserves or the minimum reserves as required by the Loan Product Advisory and the Guide, for impacted mortgages with application received dates of January 16, 2019 or after. In addition, Freddie Mac will allow flexibility in circumstances where a seller is unable to meet the 10-day pre-closing verification of income and employment requirements for impacted mortgages regardless of the application received date. Freddie Mac also directs sellers of government funded, guaranteed, or insured mortgages sold to Freddie Mac to review government agency requirements.
Fannie Mae Lender Letter LL-2019-2 also provides additional temporary guidance on selling policies that may be impacted during the continued shutdown, and builds upon guidance issued last December. (See LL-2018-06 covered by InfoBytes here.) The additional guidance imposes a minimum liquid financial reserves requirement to offset risk and is applicable to loans with application dates on or after January 16, 2019. The new reserves requirement does not apply to high LTV refinances. Finally, Fannie Mae will provide additional flexibility with regard to verbal verification of employment and paystub age requirements.
On January 11, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae issued guidance regarding credit reporting during the government shutdown (see Bulletin 2019-2 and Lender Letter 2019-01). The guidance clarifies that servicers have flexibility when reporting the status of a mortgage loan to credit reporting agencies for a borrower affected by the shutdown, and are permitting, but not requiring, servicers to suppress credit reporting in these instances entirely.
On January 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-19-1, which encourages holders of VA-guaranteed loans to extend forbearance to borrowers in distress as a result of the government shut down. It also encourages servicers to waive late charges on loans where borrowers suffered income loss due the shutdown or who may have been affected due to the ripple effect of the shutdown and suspend credit reporting on the affected accounts. The VA also issued Circular 26-19-2, which clarifies that loans for borrowers directly impacted by the government shutdown are still eligible for guarantee by the VA, so long as the lender has obtained all the required documentation and the loan is current. The VA emphasizes that the furlough period should not be considered a break in employment for underwriting purposes provided the borrower returned to work in the same status and provides their furlough letter. Additionally, the VA reminds originators that, even though the IRS Form 4506-T is mentioned in the VA Lender’s Handbook as a condition of the Automated Underwriting Cases feedback certificate, that condition is an investor or lender overlay and the form is not actually required by VA guidelines. Lastly, if the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) is unavailable for routine certifications or correspondence regarding flood insurance, the VA reminds lenders that non-federal flood insurance policies are acceptable.
On January 3, Freddie Mac released guidance relating to loan origination and loan servicing during the government shutdown. According to Bulletin 2019-1, loans made to borrowers directly impacted by the government shutdown are still eligible for sale to Freddie Mac, even if the borrower is not receiving pay when the loan is delivered, so long as (i) all income and employment documentation requirements are met; (ii) the seller has no knowledge that the borrower will not return to work after the shutdown ends; and (iii) all other requirements of the “Seller’s Purchase Documents” are met. Freddie Mac also emphasizes that the IRS Form 4506-T and flood insurance requirements will remain unchanged during the shutdown. Additionally, Freddie Mac notes that loan servicers may offer forbearance to borrowers directly impacted by the shutdown.
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