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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is “in urgent need of reform,” as taxpayers are “potentially exposed to future bailouts” and programs at HUD have outdated operations and are “potentially overexposed to risk.”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 28, HUD announced that it charged a world-wide social media platform with violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by allowing advertisers to exclude certain protected classes from viewing housing-related ads. According to the charges, the social media platform collects information about its users and sells advertisers the ability to target housing-related advertisements to people who “share certain personal attributes and/or are likely to respond to a particular ad.” Specifically, HUD alleges that the platform first allows advertisers to use tools to select attributes of users who they would like to include or exclude from viewing their advertisements. These attributes include attributes such as, “women in the workforce,” “foreigners,” “Puerto Rico Islanders,” or “Christian.” HUD also alleges that the platform allows advertisers to draw a “red line” around specific areas on a map to exclude people who live there from seeing a particular ad. In a subsequent phase, HUD alleges that the platform groups users by shared attributes to create a target audience most likely to engage with the ad, even if the advertiser would prefer a broader audience, which, according to HUD, inevitably creates “groupings defined by their protected class.” HUD alleges that the data collection and targeted ad processes function “just like an advertiser who intentionally targets or excludes users based on their protected class” in violation of the FHA. HUD is seeking an injunction, damages for any aggrieved persons, and civil money penalties against the platform.
On March 14, the FHA announced updates to its manual underwriting requirements for single-family mortgages with credit scores under 620 and debt-to-income ratios greater than 43 percent. The updates to the Technology Open to Approved Lenders (TOTAL) Mortgage Scorecard will apply to mortgages with FHA case numbers assigned on or after March 18. This announcement reverses a decision made in August 2016 to remove a manual underwriting rule from the TOTAL Mortgage Scorecard, which the FHA claims has resulted in a “significant increase in higher-risk loans FHA endorses.” Lenders that submit higher-risk mortgages to the TOTAL Mortgage Scorecard through an automated underwriting system now may be informed that these mortgages must be manually underwritten. The FHA noted that “[t]he lender’s final underwriting review decision for those mortgages must be documented in accordance with existing FHA requirements for manually underwritten mortgages.”
White House releases 2020 budget proposal; key areas include appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing
On March 11, the White House released its fiscal 2020 budget request, A Budget for a Better America. The budget was accompanied by texts entitled Major Savings and Reforms (MSR), which “contains detailed information on major savings and reform proposals”; Analytical Perspectives, which “contains analyses that are designed to highlight specified subject areas or provide other significant presentations of budget data that place the budget in perspective”; and an Appendix containing detailed supporting information. Funding through appropriations and efforts to combat terrorist financing remain key highlights carried over from last year. Notable takeaways of the 2020 budget proposal are as follows:
CFPB. In the MSR’s “Restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” section, the budget revives a call to restructure the Bureau, and proposes legislative action to implement a two-year restructuring period, subject the CFPB to the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021, and “bring accountability” to the Bureau. Among other things, the proposed budget would cap the Federal Reserve’s transfers to the Bureau at $485 million in 2020.
Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). The 2020 budget proposal requests that Congress establish funding levels through annual appropriations bills for FSOC (which is comprised of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies and monitors risk to the U.S. financial system) and its independent research arm, the Office of Financial Research (OFR). Currently FSOC and OFR set their own budgets.
Flood Insurance. The Credit and Insurance chapter of the budget’s Analytical Perspectives section discusses FEMA initiatives such as modifying the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to become a simpler, more customer-focused program, and “doubling the number of properties covered by flood insurance (either the NFIP or private insurance) by 2022.” Separately, the budget proposal emphasizes that the administration believes that “flood insurance rates should reflect the risk homeowners face by living in flood zones.”
Government Sponsored Enterprises. Noted within the MSR, the budget proposes doubling the guarantee fee charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loan originators from 0.10 to 0.20 percentage points from 2020 through 2021. The proposal is designed to help “level the playing field for private lenders seeking to compete with the GSEs” and would generate an additional $32 billion over the 10-year budget window.
HUD. The budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, stating that “[s]tate and local governments are better equipped to address local community and economic development needs.” The proposal would continue to preserve access to homeownership opportunities for creditworthy borrowers through FHA and Ginnie Mae credit guarantees. The budget also requests $20 million above last year’s estimated level to help modernize FHA’s information technology systems and includes legislative proposals to “align FHA authorities with the needs of its lender enforcement program and limit FHA’s exposure to down-payment assistance practices.”
SEC. As stated in both the budget proposal and the MSR, the budget again proposes to eliminate the SEC’s mandatory reserve fund and would require the SEC to request additional funds through the congressional appropriations process starting in 2021. According to the Appendix, the reserve fund is currently funded by collected registration fees and is not subject to appropriation or apportionment. Under the proposed budget, the registration fees would be deposited in the Treasury’s general fund.
SIGTARP. As proposed in the MSR, the budget revives a plan that would reduce funding for the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs.” According to the MSR, “Congress aligned the sunset of SIGTARP with the length of time that TARP funds or commitments are outstanding,” which, Treasury estimates, will be through 2023. The reduction reflects, among other things, that less than one percent of TARP investments remain outstanding. This will mark the final time payments are expected to be made under the Home Affordable Modification Program.
Student Loan Reform. As with the 2019 budget proposal, the 2020 proposed budget seeks to establish a single income-driven repayment plan that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the proposal would eliminate subsidized loans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, auto-enroll “severely delinquent borrowers,” and create a process for borrowers to share income data for multiple years. With certain exceptions, these proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2020.
Treasury Department. The budget states that combating terrorist financing, proliferation financing, and other types of illicit financing are a top priority for the administration, and $167 million has been requested for Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to “continue its work safeguarding the financial system from abuse and combating other national security threats using economic tools.” The proposed budget also requests $125 million for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to administer the Bank Secrecy Act and its work to prevent the financing of terrorism, money laundering, and other financial crimes. An additional $18 million was proposed for strengthening and protecting Treasury’s IT systems.
On March 12, HUD released Mortgagee Letter 2019-05, which alters home warranty requirements for FHA single-family mortgage insurance by removing the policy guidance that required borrowers to purchase ten-year protection plans in order to qualify for certain mortgages on newly constructed single-family homes. The borrower is still required to obtain a one-year warranty, which should commence on the date that title is conveyed to the borrower, the date that construction is completed, or the date that the borrower occupies the house, whichever occurs first. The changes are effective on March 14.
On February 15, HUD released Mortgagee Letter 2019-01, which provides guidance on the use of third-party verification (TPV) services for FHA-insured mortgages. Effective immediately, FHA now allows mortgagees to use TPV services for verification of a borrower’s employment, income, and asset information. The Letter provides specific requirements for each category of information but, in all circumstances, a borrower must authorize the mortgagee’s use of a TPV vendor for the verification (whether direct or electronic).
On February 13, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California announced a $3.67 million joint settlement with HUD and the Fair Housing Administration (FHA) to resolve allegations that a mortgage lender violated the False Claims Act by falsely certifying compliance with FHA mortgage insurance requirements. According to the settlement agreement, between 2007 and 2009, the mortgage lender, a participant in HUD’s Direct Endorsement Lender program, allegedly knowingly submitted false claims to the FHA loan insurance program by failing to ensure the loans qualified for FHA insurance when they were originated. The announcement notes that the settlement relates solely to allegations, and that there has been no determination of actual liability by the mortgage lender, which did not admit to liability in the settlement.
Waters announces subcommittee chairs, including newly formed Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion
On January 24, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters, announced that Joyce Beatty (D-OH) will serve as the first Chair of the newly formed Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion. According to Waters’ policy speech on January 17, the new Subcommittee will be “dedicated to looking at diversity and inclusion issues under the Committee’s jurisdiction.” Specifically, Waters cited to low representation of minorities and women in the financial services industry, particularly at the management level, as a reason for the creation of the subcommittee. Using the Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion of the federal financial services regulators as an example, Waters suggested that the subcommittee be responsible for overseeing diversity in management, employment, and business activities in the financial industry. In addition to diversity and inclusion, Waters noted that, among other things, fair housing, including conducting “robust oversight” of HUD, and fintech would be top priorities for the subcommittee.
On December 14, HUD issued two Mortgagee Letters (here and here) providing the mortgage limits for FHA-insured forward mortgage case numbers and for FHA-insured Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) for 2019. Beginning on January 1, 2019, FHA’s nationwide forward mortgage limit “floor” and “ceiling” for a one-unit property are $314,827 and $726,525, respectively, and the HECM maximum nationwide claim will be $726,525.
Earlier this fall, the HUD Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG) published an annual report, which examines top management challenges facing the agency in 2019 and beyond. According to HUD-OIG, the six top challenges are a result of “critical unaddressed internal or external risks” that impede the success of HUD’s programs. Identified challenges impacting HUD’s performance relate to (i) the availability of safe, affordable housing; (ii) the ability to protect FHA’s mortgage insurance funds due to, among other things, a lack of sufficient safeguards, losses due to home equity conversion mortgages, increases in Ginnie Mae’s nonbank issuers, and emerging digital mortgage risks attributed to technology and information security problems; (iii) the inability to implement and institute adequate monitoring and oversight of its operations and program participants; (iv) identified inefficiencies in administering disaster recovery assistance; (v) a failure to modernize technology and properly oversee the information technology infrastructure, which leaves the agency vulnerable to data breaches; and (vi) the ability to institute sound financial management governance, internal controls, and systems due to a “lack of strong, consistent leadership over an extended period.” HUD-OIG states it will continue to identify challenges and assist in implementing solutions to remediate weaknesses.
- Buckley Webcast: Maintaining privilege in cross-border internal investigations
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "State regulatory and disclosures" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Legal Forum
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "The state of the BSA 2019: What’s working, what’s not, and how to improve it" at the West Coast Anti Money-Laundering Forum
- Buckley Webcast: The future of the Community Reinvestment Act
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Creative character evidence in criminal and civil trials" at the Litigation Counsel of America Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
- Buckley Webcast: Amendments to the CFPB's proposed debt collection
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Flood NFIP in the age of extreme weather events" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "UDAAP compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Major state law developments" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Leveraging big data responsibly" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "State examination/enforcement trends" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Benjamin K. Olson to discuss "LO compensation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- APPROVED Webcast: State and SAFE Act licensing requirements for banks
- John C. Redding to discuss "TCPA compliance in the era of mobile" at the Auto Finance Risk Summit
- Buckley Webcast: The next consumer litigation frontier? Assessing the consumer privacy litigation and enforcement landscape in 2019 and beyond
- Buckley Webcast: Data breach litigation and biometric legislation
- Buckley Webcast: Trends in e-discovery technology and case law
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain: Addressing prosecutions driven by hidden actors" at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers West Coast White Collar Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Keep off the grass: Mitigating the risks of banking marijuana-related businesses" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Mid-year policy update" at the ACAMS AML Risk Management Conference
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program