Today, the Senate Banking Committee heard testimony from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria regarding the Administration’s proposal to overhaul the nation’s housing finance system. Secretary Mnuchin outlined the Administration’s vision for the future of two giant companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that back half of the nation’s mortgages by buying mortgages from lenders, then selling packaged securities to investors. The two companies also have an affordable housing mandate to support access to affordable, 30-year mortgages. They have also been under conservatorship, or government control, for 11 years.
The plan would make these companies private again, but require a fee for the government protection they receive and eliminate a requirement that the companies send their profits to the Treasury Department. Secretary Mnuchin noted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac currently have a combined $6 billion in capital but said they should have about $100 billion and that creates an intense reliance on Treasury support. The companies did receive nearly $200 billion in bailouts, but as the market has been working towards recovery, they have since contributed $300 billion in dividends to the Treasury Department. This dynamic complicates the reform roadmap for moving forward.
There is bipartisan support for the need to come up with a plan to end conservatorship and move the mortgage giants move forward, but significant concerns over the proposal were raised regarding the implications for moderate-income households seeking a stable, affordable home loan. The proposal calls for eliminating the affordable housing goals in favor of having the Federal Housing Agency and Congress create “more efficient mechanisms” for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to achieve those goals with the goal for delivering tailored support to lower-income, rural and first-time home buyers. Changes to current mandates could have sweeping effects on credit access for first-time homebuyers who lack a 20 percent downpayment.
The plan would also allow for private competitors in the market for the first time who would not have the same obligations or guarantees. This could affect efforts to address racial homeownership gaps. During the hearing, numerous Senators pointed out that the black homeownership is just over 40 percent, which is actually lower than when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968 while white homeownership has consistently increased over that time to 73 percent.
Jesse Van Tol, chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, noted that the plan would “open the market up to competitors for the first time and introduce private guarantors that won’t have the same obligations as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
Numerous senators also focused on the proposal’s proposal that would release Fannie and Freddie from their “duty-to-serve” requirements that increase lending in rural communities. We will continue to update members on any further negotiations or discussions around this and other housing finance proposals.