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On July 1, FHFA issued a supervisory letter providing guidance to the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBanks) regarding Division of Bank Regulation expectations on the use of alternative reference rates to ensure ongoing “safe and sound FHLBank operations.” According to the letter, FHLBanks should consider, among other things, whether the reference rate: (i) is based on actual daily market transactions; (ii) accurately correlates with the bank’s funding costs; and (iii) is considered the most robust or reflective option of market activity available. In addition, the letter advises FHLBanks to consider whether they have the “necessary information about the underlying transactions and methodology supporting a candidate reference rate to monitor its representativeness over time.” The letter advises that FHLBanks should avoid “rates that contain shortcomings that exist in LIBOR and other recently discontinued or soon to be discontinued reference rates.” FHFA also instructs FHLBanks to provide advance notice to their Examiners-in-Charge if they intend to use an alternative reference rate not already in use.
On July 1, FHFA released a policy statement on its commitment to “comprehensive” fair lending oversight of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks (collectively, “regulated entities”), in addition to expanding FHFA’s fair lending program. The statement describes FHFA’s position on monitoring and information gathering, supervisory examinations, and administrative enforcement regarding ECOA, the Fair Housing Act, and the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act. FHFA noted the purpose of the policy statement is “to provide a foundation for possible future interpretations and rulemakings by the agency for its regulated entities.” FHFA also issued an order on fair lending reporting that requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to submit quarterly fair lending reports and data. Comments on the policy statement are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On June 30, FHFA announced changes to loan modification terms for borrowers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac who need payment reduction. According to FHFA, flex modification terms will be adjusted for Covid-19 hardships, which will make “interest rate reduction possible for eligible borrowers, regardless of the borrower’s loan-to-value ratio.” Previously, only borrowers with mark-to-market loan-to-value ratios (which compare the balance remaining on a mortgage to the current market value of a home) greater than or equal to 80 percent were eligible for an interest rate reduction. FHFA acting Director Sandra L. Thompson noted that more families qualifying for interest rate reduction will “prevent unnecessary foreclosures, help strengthen the Enterprises’ books of business, and make sustainable homeownership a reality for more families currently living with the uncertainty of forbearance.”
On June 29, FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) will not be permitted to make a first notice or filing for foreclosure that would be prohibited by the CFPB’s “Protections for Borrowers Affected by the COVID-19 Emergency Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Regulation X” final rule prior to the rule’s effective date. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Bureau’s final rule, which takes effect August 31, obligates a servicer to continue specifying, with substantial detail, any loss mitigation options that may help borrowers resolve their delinquencies. GSEs are required to follow the CFPB’s new protections a month before the CFPB rule takes effect, which will protect borrowers from foreclosure and provide certainty for servicers regarding GSE expectations. According to FHFA, “[s]ervicers will still be able to make a notice or filing for foreclosure on abandoned properties and those that had a foreclosure referral prior to March 2020, along with certain other exceptions.” FHFA’s action eliminates the gap between the expiration of its current moratoriums for single family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions that will expire on July 31 (covered by InfoBytes here) and the effective date of the CFPB’s rule, which is a month later.
On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a split opinion in Collins v. Yellen (previously Collins v. Mnuchin), holding that FHFA’s leadership structure, which only allows the president to fire the FHFA director for cause, is unconstitutional. The Court’s determination follows its decision in Seila Law LLC v. CFPB (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), in which the Court held that a similar clause in the Dodd-Frank Act that requires cause to remove the director of the CFPB violates the constitutional separation of powers. In Collins, the Court stated, “[a] straightforward application of our reasoning in Seila Law dictates the result here. The FHFA (like the CFPB) is an agency led by a single Director, and the [Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (Recovery Act)] (like the Dodd-Frank Act) restricts the President’s removal power.”
Last July, the Court agreed to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit’s en banc decision (covered by InfoBytes here) issued in a 2016 lawsuit brought by a group of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) shareholders against the U.S. Treasury Department and FHFA. The shareholders claimed that the Recovery Act, which created the agency, violated the separation of powers principal because it only allowed the president to fire the FHFA director “for cause,” and that FHFA acted outside its statutory authority when it adopted a third amendment to the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, which replaced a fixed-rate dividend formula with a variable one requiring the GSEs to pay quarterly dividends equal to their entire net worth minus a specified capital reserve amount to the Treasury Department (known as the “net worth sweep”). Following the en banc rehearing, the appellate court reaffirmed its earlier decision that FHFA’s structure violates the Constitution’s separation of powers requirements. However, the opinions differed on the appropriate remedy, with nine judges concluding that the remedy should be severance of the for-cause provision, not prospective relief invalidating the net worth sweep, stating that “the Shareholders’ ongoing injury, if indeed there is one, is remedied by a declaration that the “for cause” restriction is declared removed. We go no further.”
While the split Court agreed with the 5th Circuit that the agency’s structure violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, the justices left intact the net worth sweep. “Although the statute unconstitutionally limited the President’s authority to remove the confirmed Directors, there was no constitutional defect in the statutorily prescribed method of appointment to that office. As a result, there is no reason to regard any of the actions taken by the FHFA in relation to the third amendment as void,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “It is not necessary for us to decide—and we do not decide—whether the FHFA made the best, or even a particularly good, business decision when it adopted the third amendment,” the Court added. “[W]e conclude only that under the terms of the Recovery Act, the FHFA did not exceed its authority as a conservator, and therefore the anti-injunction clause bars the shareholders’ statutory claim.” The Court remanded the case to determine “what remedy, if any, the shareholders are entitled to receive on their constitutional claim.”
Various concurring and dissenting opinions were issued as well. While concurring, Justice Elena Kagan noted that “[s]tare decisis compels the conclusion that the FHFA’s for-cause removal provision violates the Constitution. But the majority’s opinion rests on faulty theoretical premises and goes further than it needs to.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing: “[t]he Court has proved far too eager in recent years to insert itself into questions of agency structure best left to Congress. In striking down the independence of the FHFA Director, the Court reaches further than ever before, refusing tenure protections to an Agency head who neither wields significant executive power nor regulates private individuals.”
Shortly after the ruling, President Biden appointed Sandra L. Thompson as acting FHFA Director, effective immediately. Thompson has served at FHFA since March 2013 as Deputy Director of the Division of Housing Mission and Goals where she oversaw FHFA’s housing and regulatory policy, capital policy, financial analysis, fair lending, as well as all mission activities for the GSEs and the Federal Home Loan Banks. Former Director Mark Calabria issued a statement noting his respect for the Court’s decision and the authority of the president to remove the FHFA director.
On June 21, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter to several federal agencies “urging them to administratively extend their moratoria on foreclosures at least until the CFPB is able to finalize and implement its pandemic recovery mortgage servicing rule.” As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Bureau issued a proposed rule in April that would broadly halt foreclosure initiations on principal residences from August 31, 2021 until 2022, and change servicing rules to promote consumer awareness and processing of Covid-relief loss mitigation options. The proposed rule also would create new and detailed obligations for communicating with borrowers to ensure they are aware of their loss mitigation options for pandemic-related hardships.
The letter, which was sent to the secretaries of HUD, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the director of FHFA and the acting director of the CFPB, stresses that many homeowners will face the risk of foreclosure when the emergency federal foreclosure mortarium expires on June 30, as the Bureau’s proposed rule is not expected to take effect until August. This gap in critical protections, Waters cautions, “could result in servicers expediting efforts to initiate foreclosures before a final rule takes effect, especially for borrowers who have not been able to access forbearance options during the pandemic[.]” The letter requests not only an extension of the current foreclosure moratoriums but also urges the Bureau to finalize the rule (or issue an interim final rule if necessary) as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary foreclosures and ensure homeowners have the opportunity to finalize affordable loan modifications. Additionally, Waters urges the Bureau to alert servicers of the consequences should they, among other things, fail to notify homeowners about their post-forbearance options, unnecessarily delay reviewing loan modification applications, engage in improper foreclosure-related activity, unlawfully discriminate against borrowers, or provide inaccurate, adverse information to credit reporting agencies.
On June 24, FHFA announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) will extend their moratorium on single-family foreclosures and real estate owned (REO) evictions until July 31. The current moratoriums were set to expire June 30. The foreclosure moratorium applies only to homeowners with a GSE-backed, single-family mortgage, and the REO eviction moratorium applies only to properties that have been acquired by the GSEs through foreclosure or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure transactions. Additional details on Covid-19 forbearance plan terms and payment deferrals are covered by InfoBytes here and here. The extensions are implemented in Fannie Mae Lender Letter LL-2021-02 and Freddie Mac Guide Bulletin 2021-23. The same day, the CDC also announced an extension of its current moratorium on residential evictions for non-payment of rent through July 31, also stating in the announcement that “this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.”
On June 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit stated that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) can continue non-judicial foreclosures in states that permit them, holding that the GSEs are not “government actors” despite being controlled by FHFA. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs obtained mortgages that were later sold to Fannie Mae. After the borrowers defaulted on their loans, Fannie Mae, consistent with Rhode Island law, conducted non-judicial foreclosure sales of the properties. The plaintiffs filed suit, arguing that Fannie Mae and FHFA (which acts as Fannie Mae’s conservator) are government actors and that the nonjudicial foreclosure sales violated their Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights. The district court disagreed, however, and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the grounds that “because FHFA stepped into Fannie Mae’s shoes as its conservator and its ability to foreclose was a ‘contractual right inherited from Fannie Mae by virtue of its conservatorship,’ FHFA was not acting as the government when it foreclosed on the plaintiffs’ mortgages and was not subject to the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment claims.” The court further determined that FHFA’s conservatorship over Fannie Mae did not make Fannie Mae a government actor subject to the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims because FHFA “does not exercise sufficient control” over the GSE. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing, among other things, that the FHFA’s nearly 13-year conservatorship of the GSEs makes its control permanent and renders them governmental actors.
On appeal, the appellate court concluded that in its role as conservator, “FHFA is not a government actor because it has ‘stepped into the shoes’ of the private GSEs” and assumed all of their private contractual rights, including the right to perform non-judicial foreclosures. The appellate court also refuted the plaintiffs’ argument that FHFA’s 13-year conservatorship made its control permanent, pointing out that the “housing and mortgage financial markets are highly complex, as are the various indicators of their financial health, so the fact that FHFA has maintained the conservatorship for almost thirteen years does not mean that the government’s control is permanent.” As such, because the GSEs are not government actors they are also not subject to the plaintiffs’ due process claims, the appellate court concluded.
On May 20, FHFA released a comprehensive dataset on ways mortgage risk has evolved over time. The revised staff working paper, “A Quarter Century of Mortgage Risk,” provides an account of the evolution of default risk for newly originated home mortgages over the past 25 years. As FHFA explained in its press release, reviewing a comprehensive dataset containing “aggregated results using more than 200 million purchase-money and refinance mortgages from 1990 to 2019” has led researchers to “challenge some long-held assumptions about the impetus of the 2008 financial crisis.” Key findings presented in the working paper include: (i) new data shows that increased mortgage risk in the 1990s “was a precursor to the market failing in 2008,” whereas “previous research could not identify the fact that a refinance boom from 2000-2003 masked the mortgage risk accumulation”; (ii) prior to the 2008 financial crisis, “mortgage risk accumulated across the full spectrum of borrowers, not just those with low credit scores as some have previously asserted”; (iii) “[m]ortgage rate spreads between ‘not risky loans’ and ‘very risky loans’” tightened for portfolio and private-label securities mortgages in the mid-2000s—an indication of expanded credit supply directly prior to the Great Recession; and (iv) during the current era, “sustained house price appreciation is leading mortgage risk to increase.”
On May 5, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a mortgage servicer in an action asserting claims arising from a homeowners’ association’s (HOA) nonjudicial foreclosure on real property in Nevada. According to the opinion, Fannie Mae originally purchased the loan on the property (secured by a Deed of Trust), which was eventually assigned to the mortgage servicer. Following the homeowners’ failure to pay their HOA dues, a foreclosure sale was held, and the property was conveyed to a limited liability company. The mortgage servicer filed a quiet title suit against the company, and the district court granted summary judgment in its favor on the basis that the Federal Foreclosure Bar (which prohibits the foreclosure of FHFA property without FHFA’s consent) “prevented the extinguishment of Fannie Mae’s Deed.”
In agreeing with the district court, the 9th Circuit first rejected two threshold challenges raised by the company, holding that the mortgage servicer “properly and timely” raised its claims under the Federal Foreclosure Bar. Specifically, the appellate court determined that the mortgage servicer “presented ample evidence of its servicing relationship with Fannie Mae,” and that this relationship, along with authority delegated to Fannie Mae loan servicers to protect its mortgage loans, “was more than sufficient to establish” that the mortgage servicer was Fannie Mae’s loan servicer and, therefore “had the authority to assert the Federal Foreclosure Bar” in quiet title action. The 9th Circuit also concluded that the mortgage servicer filed the action within the applicable six-year statute of limitations. In holding that the Federal Foreclosure Bar preempted Nevada’s HOA law and prevented the extinguishment of Fannie Mae’s Deed of Trust, the appellate court noted, among other things, that the mortgage servicer demonstrated that Fannie Mae retained an enforceable interest in the loan at the time of the HOA foreclosure sale. The 9th Circuit rejected the company’s argument that the mortgage servicer “failed to produce a ‘signed writing’ evincing such interest as required by the Nevada statute of frauds.” According to the appellate court, given that the company “was not a party to the underlying loan agreement pursuant to which Fannie Mae acquired the loan,” the company could not raise the statute of frauds.
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to provide “Fair lending update” at the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association Operational and Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Justice for all: Achieving racial equity through fair lending” at CBA Live
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss “On the horizon for CRA modernization” at CBA Live
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “State law regulatory and enforcement trends” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Government investigations, and compliance 2021 trends” at the Corporate Counsel Women of Color Career Strategies Conference
- Max Bonici to discuss “BSA/AML trends: What to expect with the implementation of the AML Act of 2020” at the American Bar Association Banking Law Fall Meeting
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss “Modifications and exiting forbearance” at the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute