Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On November 28, FHFA announced that it will raise the maximum conforming loan limits (CLL) for mortgages purchased in 2024 by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from $726,200 to $776,550 (the 2023 CLLs were covered by InfoBytes here) for most of the United States. In Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the maximum loan limit for one-unit properties will be 1,149,825. According to the FHFA, due to rising home values (up 5.56 percent since 2022), CLLs will be higher for all but five U.S. counties.
On November 15, FHFA released its annual performance report, titled “FHFA FY 2023 Performance and Accountability Report” to detail how it regulated the FHLBank system, as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, during the past fiscal year. The report refers to its FY 2022-2026 Strategic Plan with the goals of securing the safety of regulated entities, fostering equitable housing finance markets, and stewarding FHFA’s infrastructure. For FY 2023, FHFA identified 35 performance targets to help guide it toward achieving its strategic goals. Of the 35 targets, the FHFA met 31 of them––an 89 percent success rate. Table 2 from page 15 of the report displays the goals and ones that have not been met, including (i) “Improve Time-to-Hire” within 80 days; and (ii) “Develop FHFA Information Technology Strategic Plan” by the time the report had been published.
Looking forward, FHFA wishes to implement an “Enterprise Fair Lending Rating System to annually assess each Enterprise’s compliance with fair lending and fair housing standards.” For fintech initiatives, FHFA will publish a summary on Velocity TechSprint, a problem-solving event with “mortgage industry leaders and fintech entrepreneurs to address mortgage market issues.”
On November 13, FHFA released an advisory bulletin on the FHLBank Framework for Pilot and Voluntary Programs. The desire for FHFA to develop innovative pilot programs is to support “affordable housing, equity advancement, and community development for underserved and financially vulnerable populations.” The pilot programs would be implemented and then analyzed to determine if they should continue, be expanded, or stop altogether. Some pilot programs may be to “test and learn” while some end because they do not meet FHLBank objectives. What the FHFA disallows from its pilot programs are “[p]roducts, programs, and services implemented under established FHFA statutory and regulatory authorities.” However, voluntary programs have included “grants, down payment assistance programs, and special purpose credit programs.”
The FHFA guidance recommends that FHLBank’s board of directors establish specific parameters for pilot and voluntary programs by March 29, 2024. This bulletin was a result of public input phases of the “FHLBank System at 100: Focusing on the Future” initiative, as previously covered by InfoBytes here. Stakeholder feedback claimed that “FHLBanks should do more to support the affordable housing and community development components of their mission, especially in addressing the needs of underserved or financially vulnerable populations.”
On November 7, the FHFA released a report titled “FHLBank System at 100: Focusing on the Future,” providing a comprehensive overview of the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBank) system in its entirety. The FHLBank system is comprised of domestic and small, community-focused lenders that are connected to the global capital markets, engendering lenders to “better support housing and community development” through liquidity. The FHFA’s report acknowledged that the banking sector volatility in March 2023 led to a “significant advance demand” and it “provided a record volume of advances” to their members.
Furthermore, the report details the background of the FHLBank System, such as its history, member type, and business functions. The features from the FHLBank system’s mission are to provide liquidity to members, as well as support housing and community developments. The chapter on stable and reliable sources of liquidity confirms that the FHLBank system is not the lender of last resort due to its funding structure of bonds and short-term notes. In addition, the Moving Forward chapter offers a list of goals for the FHLBank system to adopt. Interestingly, Appendix 5 of the report highlights an analysis of four crises from the banking failures from March to May 2023.
Fifth Circuit affirms dismissal of Fannie, Freddie shareholders’ claims related to FHFA removal restriction and funding
On October 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shareholders’ claims that the FHFA’s unconstitutional removal restriction caused them harm and that the FHFA’s funding mechanism is inconsistent with the Appropriations Clause. After the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, it entered into several preferred stock purchase agreements with the U.S. Treasury. As a result of these agreements, any value the companies generated would go to the Treasury and not to junior preferred and common stockholders such as plaintiffs.
The plaintiff shareholders sued in 2016, arguing that the “for cause” removal protection for the director of the FHFA was unconstitutional. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of FHFA, but a panel of the 5th Circuit reversed. Sitting en banc, the 5th Circuit then determined that the removal provision violated the separation of powers, and held that the proper remedy was to sever the removal restriction from the rest of the authorizing statute. On further appeal, the Supreme Court held that for-cause restriction on the President’s removal authority violates the separation of powers, but it refused to hold that the relevant preferred stock purchase agreement must be undone.
The Supreme Court remanded the case for lower courts to resolve whether the unconstitutional removal provision caused harm to plaintiffs as shareholders, and the 5th Circuit, again sitting en banc, remanded that question to the district court. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on remand, bringing claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and directly under the Constitution. The amended complaint also alleged, for the first time, that the FHFA’s financing structure violates the Appropriations Clause. Defendants moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion in its entirety and dismissed all claims with prejudice.
The 5th Circuit determined that the removal claims were within the scope of the remand order, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, but that the plaintiff’s APA claim was barred by an anti-injunction clause in the authorizing statute. Turning to the Constitutional claim, the 5th Circuit concluded that judicial review was not precluded and proceeded to the merits of the claim.
To show compensable harm from the unconstitutional removal provision, plaintiffs had to allege, among other things, a “nexus between the desire to remove and the challenged actions taken by the insulated actor.” More specifically, they had to allege a connection between the Trump Administration’s desire to remove the director of the FHFA and the Administration’s failure to have FHFA exit the conservatorships and return Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to private control. The amended complaint, however, failed to plead facts demonstrating that the Trump Administration’s purported plan for re-privatization would have been completed if President Trump had been able to remove the existing FHFA director. Those allegations, the Fifth Circuit held, were insufficient.
The 5th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs’ Appropriations Clause argument was outside the mandate of the earlier remand order. The appeals court reasoned that the remand order “[left] no opening for plaintiffs to bring a challenge under a completely different constitutional theory for the first time on remand,” nor was there an intervening change in the law such that the mandate rule would not apply.
On October 16, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced it will revise how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSE) single-family mortgages are treated for borrowers who have entered Covid-19 forbearance under the GSEs’ representations and warranties framework. Under the revised policies, loans for which borrowers elected Covid-19 forbearance will be treated similarly to loans for which borrowers obtained forbearance due to a natural disaster. The GSEs’ current representations and warranties framework for natural disaster forbearance allows for consideration of the period during which a borrower is in forbearance as part of their demonstrated satisfactory payment history for the initial 36 months after the loan's origination. This framework will now be extended to loans with Covid-19 forbearance. FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson said, "Servicers went to great lengths to implement forbearance quickly amid a national emergency, and the loans they service should not be subject to greater repurchase risk simply because a borrower was impacted by the pandemic."
The updates will be effective on October 31.
On September 21, FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on Federal Home Loan Bank Supervisory Activities in 2023 in Response to Market Disruptions (report), to evaluate the Division of Federal Home Loan Bank Regulation (DBR) risk assessment. DBR is responsible for supervising the Federal Home Loan (FHL) Bank System “to ensure the safe and sound operation of FHL banks.” The OIG addressed March bank failures and how the DBR scrutinized the FHL banks’ member credit risk management practices and, more broadly, into the system’s role in lending to troubled members. The report found that DBR examiners, in response to the increased risk environment, adjusted its supervisory activities and examination planning. Additionally, the OIG noted that DBR intends to conduct a comprehensive assessment of credit risk management across the entire FHL bank system to address concerns regarding systemic vulnerabilities. The report also revealed that in the review of examiner compliance, although DBR mostly followed procedure and requirements, “in certain instances, examiners did not describe primary worksteps in their pre-examination analysis memoranda, as required by DBR procedures.”
According to the report, FHFA also ordered an assessment of six FHL banks during or after the March market disruption, “in response to the abrupt increase in demand for FHLBank advances and the collapse of several member banks.” The report notably revealed that home loan banks’ credit risk management “fail[ed] to meet existing expectations.” As a result, DBR is preparing a supervisory letter for all the FHL banks and an advisory bulletin on member credit risk.
On August 10, FHFA published the Dodd-Frank Act Stress Tests Results – Severely Adverse Scenario containing the results of the ninth annual stress tests conducted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. Last year, FHFA published orders for the GSEs to conduct a stress test with specific scenarios to determine whether companies have the capital necessary to absorb losses as a result of severely adverse economic conditions (covered by InfoBytes here). According to the report, the total comprehensive income loss is between $8.4 billion and $9.9 billion depending on how deferred tax assets are treated. Notably, compared to last year, the severely adverse scenario includes a larger increase in the unemployment rate due to the lower unemployment rate at the beginning of the planning horizon. FHFA also expanded the scope of entities considered within the primary counterparty default component of the worldwide market shock. This expansion encompasses mortgage insurers, unsecured overnight deposits, providers of multifamily credit enhancements, nonbank servicers, and credit risk transfer reinsurance counterparties.
On July 27, the Biden administration released a fact sheet detailing new actions to develop the Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights, which was rolled out early this year (covered by InfoBytes here). The three new actions aim to support renters by (i) “ensuring all renters have an opportunity to address incorrect tenant screening reports”; (ii) “providing new funding to support tenant organizing efforts”; and (iii) “ensuring that renters are given fair notice in advance of eviction.” Additionally, the CFPB, USDA, FHFA, and HUD concurrently released statements aimed at landlords, reminding them of “best practices” and their obligation to inform tenants of their rights.
FHFA published Director Sandra L. Thompson’s statement on “best practices” for the delivery of adverse action notices to renters by GSE-backed multifamily housing borrowers. Referencing research showing that tenant screening reports often contain imprecise or inaccurate information, Director Thompson “strongly encouraged” borrowers who deny a rental application to provide written adverse action notices to the applicants and a copy of any consumer screening report that was relied upon. FHFA’s guidance is based on the FCRA’s requirement that landlords and property managers inform rental applicants of negative information from a consumer screening report that resulted in their rental application being rejected or another unfavorable outcome.
The CFPB posted a blog entry that emphasized landlords’ obligation under the FCRA adverse action notice requirement, which mandates that landlords who take any action against a current or prospective tenant based on a consumer report notify the tenant of the decision and how they can contact the company that created the report. The Bureau advised that renters have the right to review their rental background check report and to dispute information they believe to be inaccurate and encouraged tenants to obtain a free copy of the report from the company that compiled it and dispute any errors (covered by InfoBytes here).
In conjunction with the White House press release, HUD announced it is taking multiple actions to improve rental screening transparency and support renters. It is sending reminders to public housing agencies and property owners about their obligation to inform rejected applicants about reasons for their denial, which provides renters with the opportunity to correct any errors. Additionally, HUD is providing $10 million for tenant education and outreach in Section 8 program properties to assist tenants with “capacity building efforts” for engagement with property management. Furthermore, HUD will issue a proposed rule requiring a 30-day written notification for evictions due to nonpayment of rent in certain subsidized housing.
Also mentioned was the recent White House announcement of actions it is taking to combat “unfair and hidden fees” concerning rental housing (covered by InfoBytes here).
On July 7, the FHFA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking and announced that it is seeking feedback on a proposed rule to amend the Suspended Counterparty Program (SCP) regulation. The SCP regulation currently requires FHFA-regulated entities to report to FHFA if they became aware of certain forms of misconduct committed within the past three years by individuals or institutions they do business with. The SCP regulation also grants FHFA the authority to issue orders directing the regulated entities to cease or refrain from doing business with certain counterparties.
According to FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson, the proposed rule aims to strengthen FHFA’s ability to protect its regulated entities from business risks associated with misconduct, enabling them to continue serving as reliable sources of liquidity. The proposed rule would specifically authorize the suspension of business between regulated entities and counterparties who are found to have committed misconduct in the context of civil enforcement actions in connection with the management or ownership of real property. Furthermore, the proposed rule would allow FHFA to immediately suspend business without prior notice when misconduct has resulted in debarment, suspension, or limited denial of participation imposed by a federal agency. Comments on the proposed rule are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.