Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
FHFA seeks to codify fair lending oversight
On April 19, FHFA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to codify several existing practices and programs relating to the agency’s fair lending oversight requirements for the Federal Home Loan Banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). Intended to provide increased public transparency and greater oversight and accountability to the regulated entities’ fair housing and fair lending compliance, the NPRM seeks to also formalize requirements for the GSEs to maintain Equitable Housing Finance Plans, which are designed to address racial and ethnic disparities in homeownership and wealth and foster housing finance markets that provide equitable access to affordable and sustainable housing (covered by InfoBytes here). The NPRM will also codify requirements for the GSEs to collect and report homeownership education, housing counseling, and language preference information from the Supplemental Consumer Information Form (SCIF). Lenders are required to use the SCIF as part of the application process for loans with application dates on or after March 1, that will be sold to the GSEs (covered by InfoBytes here). Comments on the NPRM are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
FHFA rule targets GSE eligibility in colonias
On April 12, FHFA published a final rule amending its Enterprise Duty to Serve Underserved Markets regulation. The final rule, which was adopted without change from the proposed rule issued last year (covered by InfoBytes here), allows Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSE) activities in all colonia census tracts to be eligible for Duty to Serve credit. Specifically, the amendment adds a “colonia census tract” definition to serve as a census tract-based proxy for a “colonia” (as generally applied to “unincorporated communities along the U.S.-Mexico border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas that are characterized by high poverty rates and substandard living conditions”). The final rule also amends the “high-needs rural region” definition by substituting “colonia census tract” for “colonia,” and revises the definition of “rural area” to include all colonia census tracts regardless of their location, in order to make GSE activities in all colonia census tracts eligible for duty to serve credit. The final rule takes effect July 1.
Treasury awards $1.7 billion in CDFI grants
On April 10, Vice President Kamala Harris and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo announced that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) Fund has awarded more than $1.73 billion in grants to 603 CDFIs to help low- and moderate-income communities recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Financial institutions that received grants through the CDFI Equitable Recovery Program include banks, holding companies, and credit unions, as well as CDFI-designated non-depository loan funds and venture funds. Treasury noted that the recipients of the grants are “mission-driven financial institutions [that] specialize in delivering responsible capital, credit, and financial services to underserved communities.” The CDFI grants “may be used to support lending related to small businesses and microenterprises, community facilities, affordable housing, commercial real estate, and intermediary lending to nonprofits and CDFIs,” Treasury explained, adding that funds may also go towards financial and developmental services to support borrowers, as well as operational support for grant recipients.
FHFA updates GSE equitable housing finance plans
On April 5, FHFA announced updates to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s (GSEs) equitable housing finance plans for 2023. (See plans here and here.) The updates include adjustments to plans first announced last year (covered by InfoBytes here), which faced pushback from several Republican senators who argued that the plans raised “significant legal concerns” and that “no law authorizes FHFA to use a GSE’s assets to pursue affirmative action in housing.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The senators also argued that the Biden administration was “conscripting the GSEs as instrumentalities of its progressive racial equity agenda to achieve outcomes it cannot achieve legislatively or even legally.”
According to FHA’s announcement, the updated plans provide the GSEs with a three-year roadmap to address barriers to sustainable housing opportunities. Updates include (i) taking actions to remove barriers faced by Latino renters and homeowners in Fannie Mae’s plan; (ii) an improved focus on ensuring existing borrowers are able to receive fair loss mitigation support and outcomes through monitoring and developing strategies to close gaps; (iii) providing financial capabilities coaching to build credit and savings; (iv) supporting locally-owned modular construction facilities in communities of color; and (v) increasing the reach of GSE special purpose credit programs to support homeownership attainment and housing sustainability in underserved communities.
FHA seeks feedback on enhancements to rehabilitation mortgage insurance program
On February 14, FHA issued a request for information (RFI) seeking input on ways the agency can enhance its Single Family 203(k) Rehabilitation Mortgage Insurance Program. Under the 203(k) Program, borrowers who are purchasing or refinancing a home may obtain FHA insurance on a mortgage that will cover the home’s current value plus rehabilitation costs. The 203(k) Program currently offers two options for borrowers: (i) the Standard 203(k) Mortgage, which is used for remodeling and major repairs, carries a minimum repair cost of $5,000, and requires the use of a 203(k) consultant; and (ii) the Limited 203(k) Mortgage, which is used for minor remodeling and non-structural repairs, has a maximum repair cost of $35,000, and does not require the use of a 203(k) consultant. FHA will use information gathered in response to the RFI “to identify barriers that limit the origination of 203(k) insured mortgages and lender participation in the program and consider opportunities to enhance the 203(k) Program to support HUD’s goal of increasing the available supply of affordable housing in underserved communities.” Comments on the RFI are due April 17.
CFPB releases 2023 rural or underserved counties list
Recently, the CFPB released its annual lists of rural counties and rural or underserved counties for lenders to use when determining qualified exemptions to certain TILA regulatory requirements. In connection with these releases, the Bureau also directed lenders to use its web-based Rural or Underserved Areas Tool to assess whether a rural or underserved area qualifies for a safe harbor under Regulation Z.
FHFA proposes amendments to help GSEs better serve colonias
Recently, FHFA announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend its Enterprise Duty to Serve Underserved Markets regulation. Under Section 1129 of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) are required to develop loan products and flexible underwriting guidelines for facilitating “a secondary market for mortgages on housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income families for the manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural housing markets.” The amendments would add a “colonia census tract” definition, which would serve as a census tract-based proxy for a “colonia” (as generally applied to “unincorporated communities along the U.S.-Mexico border in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas that are characterized by high poverty rates and substandard living conditions”), and would amend the “high-needs rural region” definition by substituting “colonia census tract” for “colonia.” The NPRM would also revise the definition of “rural area” to include all colonia census tracts regardless of their location, in order to make GSE activities in all colonia census tracts eligible for duty to serve credit. “FHFA is committed to promoting affordability, equity, and sustainability in the nation’s housing finance markets, especially in underserved communities,” FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson said in the announcement. “With this rule, we seek to remove barriers that have hindered the [GSEs’] Duty to Serve activities for people living in colonias.”
FTC releases strategic and performance plans
On August 26, the FTC announced the publication of its FY 2022-2026 Strategic Plan and its FY 2021-2023 Performance Report and Performance Plan as required under the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010. According to the FTC, the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan “sets the FTC’s priorities over the next five years and will serve as the foundation for annual performance reporting.” One of the FTC’s goals includes “protect[ing] the public from unfair methods of competition in the marketplace.” The FTC also noted that feedback was accepted during a public comment period, and “[t]he new plan keeps the same three-goal structure of the previous plan, while making numerous improvements. For example, two new objectives ensure that the work of the agency benefits all Americans, including those who live in historically underserved communities.”
Senate Republicans urge FHFA to “abandon” equitable finance plans
On July 19, twelve Republican Senators wrote a letter to FHFA Director Sandra Thompson expressing their “many significant concerns” about “race-based housing subsidies” in the recently released Equitable Housing Finance Plans for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs). As previously covered by InfoBytes, in June, the GSEs released their Equitable Housing Finance Plans for 2022-2024 (available here and here), affirming their commitment to addressing racial and ethnic disparities in homeownership and wealth. The plans were developed following FHFA’s September 2021 request for public input, which invited comments to help the GSEs prepare their first plans and to aid FHFA in overseeing the plans (covered by InfoBytes here). In the letter, the Senators argued that the plans “raise significant legal concerns,” adding that “no law authorizes FHFA to use a GSE’s assets to pursue affirmative action in housing.” The Senators also wrote that the Biden administration “is conscripting the GSEs as instrumentalities of its progressive racial equity agenda to achieve outcomes it cannot achieve legislatively or even legally.” The Senators urged Thompson to “abandon” the plans and, “in anticipation of litigation challenging the legality” of them, requested that the GSEs “retain all correspondence with FHFA and other records relating to these plans.”
Hsu highlights financial health for consumers
On July 14, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu delivered remarks before the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Literacy Education Commission (FLEC) discussing financial health for consumers. Hsu began by emphasizing that those who are invested in crypto-assets “are disproportionately young, diverse, and underbanked.” He noted the need “to take a careful and cautious approach” to crypto-assets, and then described the agency’s November 2021 reminder to national banks that their crypto activities must “be done in a safe, sound, and fair manner and that they need to obtain supervisory non-objections from us before engaging in new activities.” Hsu also mentioned that the OCC staff joined the FLEC Digital Assets working group to develop consumer materials clearly explaining new products in the cryptocurrency arena. Additionally, Hsu discussed the OCC’s “Financial Health: Vital Signs” discussion series, which explores issues affecting consumer financial health and well-being (covered by InfoBytes here). He further explained that a “financial health lens focused on individuals and communities, rather than solely on products or services, should enable a more sophisticated and effective approach to balancing the financial empowerment and protection of consumers.” Hsu concluded by noting the second anniversary of “Project REACh,” an initiative to promote greater financial inclusion of underserved populations, as previously covered by InfoBytes.