Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On July 19, the White House released a Fact Sheet announcing that the Biden-Harris administration is cracking down on junk fees in rental housing to lower costs for renters. The administration explained how rental housing fees can be burdensome for renters, with application fees often exceeding the actual cost of background checks, accumulating to hundreds of dollars as prospective renters apply for multiple units. Additionally, mandatory fees, such as convenience fees for online rent payment, mail sorting, trash collection, and obscure charges like "January fees," further strain renters' finances and hinder comparison shopping, as the true cost of renting may be higher than expected or affordable, the announcement states. The Fact Sheet outlines the president’s steps for taking action: (i) major rental housing platforms will disclose total upfront costs in addition to the advertised rent; (ii) legislative efforts to regulate rental housing fees and safeguard consumer interests are underway in several states; and (iii) HUD presented new research outlining a blueprint for a nationwide initiative to tackle rental housing fees. HUD’s new research presents an extensive review of rental fees, emphasizing strategies adopted by state, local, and private sectors to promote transparency and equity in the rental market. These strategies encompass measures like capping or abolishing rental application fees, enabling renters to submit their own screening reports, utilizing a single application fee for multiple applications, and ensuring clear disclosure of total move-in and monthly rent costs. HUD's research serves as a guide for local authorities and landlords alike to enhance conditions for renters.
On May 16, President Biden released a plan intended to “help close” the housing supply gap and lower housing costs. The White House’s Housing Supply Action Plan is structured to ease the burden of housing costs over five years by increasing the supply of quality, affordable housing units in the next three years. “When aligned with other policies to reduce housing costs and ensure affordability, such as rental assistance and down payment assistance, closing the gap will mean more affordable rents and more attainable homeownership for Americans in every community,” the Administration said in a statement. “This is the most comprehensive all of government effort to close the housing supply shortfall in history.”
Under the Plan, the Administration would:
- Reward jurisdictions that have reformed zoning and land-use policies with higher scores in certain federal grant processes, including by immediately leveraging transportation funding to encourage state and local governments to boost housing supply (where consistent with current statutory requirements), integrating affordable housing into Department of Transportation programs, and including land use within the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s investment priorities. These actions build on strategies that the Administration has called on Congress to pass such as establishing a grant program to “help states and localities eliminate needless barriers to affordable housing production” and creating a mandatory spending proposal to provide billions of dollars in grants to reward states and localities that have taken action to reduce affordable housing barriers.
- Pilot new financing mechanisms for housing production and preservation where financing gaps currently exist. Immediate action will include supporting production and availability of manufactured housing (including with chattel loans that the majority of manufactured housing purchasers rely on), accessory dwelling units, 2-4 unit properties, and smaller multifamily buildings.
- Expand and improve existing forms of federal financing, including for affordable multifamily development and preservation. Immediate actions include strengthening Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac financing for multifamily development and rehabilitation by “making Construction to Permanent loans (where one loan finances the construction but is also a long-term mortgage) more widely available by exploring the feasibility of Fannie Mae purchase of these loans.” The Administration also plans to promote the use of state, local, and Tribal government American Rescue Plan recovery funds to increase affordable housing supply; finalize the Low Income Housing Tax Credit “Income Averaging” proposed rule, whereby developers commit to creating affordable housing for households that meet specific income thresholds; reauthorize and update guidance for the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which provides grants to states and localities that communities use to fund a range of housing activities; and improve “the alignment of federal funds to reduce transaction costs and duplications and accelerate development” by having the White House, HUD, Treasury, and USDA “convene state housing agencies to discuss best practices on the alignment of applications, reviews, and funding.”
- Preserve the availability of affordable single-family homes for owner-occupants by ensuring that more government-owned homes and other housing goes to owners who will live in them or mission-driven entities instead of large investors. The Administration will also encourage the use of CDBG for local acquisition and local sales to owner-occupants and mission-driven entities.
- Address supply chain disruptions by working with the private sector to address challenges. The Administration will also promote modular, panelized, and manufactured housing, as well as construction research and development to increase housing productivity and supply.
“Rising housing costs have burdened families of all incomes, with a particular impact on low- and moderate-income families, and people and communities of color,” the Administration stressed, noting that it has urged Congress to pass investments in housing production and preservation. The Administration’s 2023 budget includes investments that would lead to production or rehabilitation of another 500,000 homes.
On January 7, HUD published its proposed replacement for the 2015 version of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. According to HUD, the proposed AFFH rule will provide state and local government participants with more straightforward advice “to help them improve affordable housing choices in their community.”
In August of 2018, HUD suspended requirements under the 2015 rule for HUD grant recipient communities to submit assessments of fair housing. Additionally, as previously covered in InfoBytes, HUD solicited comments on amendments to the 2015 AFFH regulations, which, according to the agency, “proved ineffective, highly prescriptive, and effectively discouraged the production of affordable housing.” The proposed rule suggests a change to the definition of AFFH to “advancing fair housing choice within the program participant’s control or influence,” and seeks to move the focus away from anti-segregation planning and toward creation of affordable housing options.
According to the proposed rule, fair housing choice includes (i) “[p]rotected choice, meaning absence of discrimination”; (ii) “[a]ctual choice, meaning not only that affordable housing options exist,” but that state and local governments are encouraged to educate the public on their rights; and (iii) “[q]uality choice, meaning that the available and affordable housing is decent, safe, and sanitary, and, for persons with disabilities, accessible as required under civil rights laws.”
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 June 13, Representatives Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) introduced legislation to strengthen the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) System by ensuring access to mortgage credit and affordable housing assistance for millions of consumers. As set forth in a June 15 press release issued by Rep. Hultgren’s office, the Housing Opportunity Mortgage Expansion (HOME) Act (H.R. 2890) would allow lenders to regain membership in the FHLB System provided they (i) joined before the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) proposed its recently finalized membership rule, and (i) are able to “demonstrate a commitment to residential mortgage activities.”
As previously discussed in InfoBytes, FHFA’s final rule added a revision intended to help streamline membership applications. However, Hultgren asserts that the rule “restricts FHLB membership eligibility” by excluding “captive insurers” under its definition of an “insurance company” thereby prohibiting membership. The HOME Act, Hultgren states, “would clarify that companies with a history and mission of supporting residential housing should be able to continue to serve our communities.”
Industry Groups Submit Comments on FHFA’s Proposed Evaluation Guidance for “Duty to Serve” Provisions
As previously discussed in InfoBytes, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) published a final rule last December implementing certain “Duty to Serve” provisions of the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992, as amended by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Among other things, the rule requires that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Enterprises) adopt formal plans to improve the availability of mortgage financing in a “safe and sound manner” for residential properties that serve “very low-, low-, and moderate-income families” in three specified underserved markets: manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets. The FHFA also published a Proposed Evaluation Guidance to outline the following: (i) FHFA's expectations regarding the development of such Underserved Markets Plans, and (ii) the process by which FHFA will evaluate annually Fannie’s and Freddie’s achievements under their Plans. The deadline to submit comments was June 7.
Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Letter. In its June 7 comment letter, the MBA stated that it commends efforts undertaken by the FHFA to develop a framework of requirements for the Enterprises to follow when preparing their Underserved Market Plans, as well as an evaluation system to rate implementation progress. Particularly, the MBA noted that, based on its data, the U.S. “will see 15.9 million additional households formed over the decade ending in 2024 . . . [which] will increase the need for all types of housing, including already limited affordable housing for very low-, low-, and moderate-income borrowers.” Furthermore, “manufactured home financing, affordable housing preservation, and additional rural housing opportunities can play a key role in providing both first-time home-buying opportunities and affordable rental options for consumers in these underserved markets.” With respect to the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, the MBA stressed the importance of flexibility so adjustments can be made for “unanticipated obstacles or opportunities caused by significant changes in market conditions that arise.”
Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Letter. Also on June 7, CRL issued a comment letter to the Proposed Guidance in which it offered recommendations concerning “public input and transparency, assessing the contents of the plants to ensure meaningful objectives, and the evaluation and scoring process.” Specifically, CRL noted that while the Enterprises have taken measures such as reinstating lower down payment programs and creating pilot programs to address the underserved markets, it believes a “robust duty to serve process will further access credit initiatives by promoting and incentivizing responsible and sustainable lending to lower wealth households.” However, the CRL also raised several issues over the Proposed Evaluation Guidance, specifically in terms of the proposed scoring system. Under current FHFA guidance, Enterprises’ plans are scored on three factors: progress, impact, and effort/implementation. Conversely, under the proposed scoring system, failure only occurs due to a lack of progress because the impact and effort criteria are assessed only after the Enterprise receives a pass/fail determination. In reaction, CRL raised the following concerns: (i) “What guards against Enterprises putting only low impact objectives in the plan?” (ii) “What incentives do Enterprises have to score highly (above minimally passing)?” and (iii) “What guards against only proposing easily achievable objectives?” In addition to scoring methodology changes, CRL recommended that the FHFA implement a more rigorous loan product and loan purchase evaluation process and increase transparency.
On April 6, the FDIC released the third volume of its Affordable Mortgage Lending Guide (Guide). The Guide is designed to help community bankers understand and compare various affordable mortgage-related programs, as well as their Community Reinvestment implications. This third installment of the Guide provides an overview of Federal Home Loan Bank programs designed to support single-family home purchases, such as down payment and closing cost assistance—many of which can be used in conjunction with other federal and state housing finance agency and government-sponsored enterprise programs. The Guide also provides alternatives for selling mortgages on the secondary market. As previously reported in InfoBytes, the first and second volumes in the series were published last year.
On November 3, the FDIC released the second volume of its recently-introduced Affordable Mortgage Lending Guide (Guide). The Guide is designed to help bankers learn about, and make comparisons of, available affordable mortgage-related programs, as well as their Community Reinvestment Act implications. This second installment of the Guide focuses on programs offered by and/or through state housing-related finance agencies across the country including, for instance, down payment and closing assistance, mortgage tax credit certificates, and homeownership education or counseling. The first volume in the series, released earlier this year, covered federal and GSE programs, and a third installment is expected to cover programs available through Federal Home Loan Banks.
House Republicans Urge FHFA Not To Direct GSEs To Start Contributing To Affordable Housing Funds Established By HERA
On April 2, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), joined by Congressmen Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and Ed Royce (R-CA), urged FHFA Director Mel Watt to continue the FHFA’s five-year-old policy of suspending contributions to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund. These two funds were established in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) to direct a percentage of GSE profits into affordable housing using a mechanism that would be off-budget and thus not subject to the Congressional appropriations process. In January, more than 30 Democratic Senators pressed Mr. Watt to change course and lift the suspension. Given that the federal government owns $189 billion in outstanding senior preferred shares, the Republican House members believe that lifting the suspension would divert money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that could be used to compensate taxpayers. They added that funding the affordable housing programs would violate the “letter and spirit of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act,” and would be premature given ongoing congressional deliberations over broader housing finance reform.
On March 16, Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) released long-awaited draft legislation to end the government’s conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and reform the housing finance system. The Senators also released a summary of the proposal and a section-by-section analysis. The bill adopts many of the principles originally outlined in bipartisan legislation introduced last year by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Bob Corker (R-TN). Like the Warner-Corker bill, the leadership proposal would create a Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation (FMIC), modeled in part after the FDIC and intended to provide an explicit government backstop for certain MBS. The government backstop would sit behind private investors required to hold at least 10% capital on FMIC-issued securities. FMIC losses in turn would be backed by a reinsurance fund. The FMIC also would (i) oversee a new mortgage securitization platform; (ii) supervise guarantors, aggregators, servicers, and private mortgage insurers; and (iii) collect fees dedicated to support affordable housing and allocated among the Housing Trust Fund, the Capital Magnet Fund, and a new Market Access Fund. Under the bill servicers, aggregators, and others would be subject to capital requirements now only applicable to banks. The bill would establish a 5% down payment requirement for borrowers, 3.5% for first time borrowers. The bill also would create a jointly owned small lender mutual intended to provide small lenders access to the secondary market. The leadership’s small lender mutual would be open to more banks—any depository institution with up to $500 billion in assets—than the Warner-Corker plan would allow. The Committee is expected to markup the legislation in the coming weeks.