Is The Government Going to Push Us Into Another Housing Bust?

Dennis Norman

UPDATE June 21, 2010- I said I would update this post after the proposed rules were published on the Federal Register with info on how to submit a comment -If you would like to comment, see the comment instructions in the Federal Register (I highlighted them) by clicking here -end of update.

June 4, 2010

Are they really going to repeat the same mistakes that helped cause this housing recession?

I say this because of a release I received from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) last week announcing that the FHFA “has sent to the Federal Register a proposed rule implementing provisions of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) that establish a duty for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) to serve very low-, low- and moderate-income families in three specified underserved markets — manufactured housing, affordable housing preservation, and rural markets.” While the statement is a little ambiguous on the surface it sounds like a nice thought, “serve the underserved.”

However, as I read on I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read other aspects of the proposed rule. The “Enterprises” (Fannie and Freddie) would be required to take actions to “improve the distribution of investment capital available for mortgage financing for underserved markets” and are expected to continue their support for affordable housing (again, something that sounds great, just depends how you plan to go about supporting “affordable housing”). The rule would establish a method to evaluate the Enterprises performance in these underserved markets for 2010 and subsequent years. Of the four criteria the enterprises are to be evaluated under, one really got my attention; “the development of loan products, more flexible underwriting guidelines, and other innovative approaches to providing financing“. WHAT?? More FLEXIBLE underwriting, INNOVATIVE approaches to provide financing? Isn’t this the stuff that got Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (not to mention thousands of homeowners) in trouble to start with? Now, I don’t claim to be an economist or even that smart for that matter, but this sure appears to me to be the Federal Government putting pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make loans they shouldn’t be making….again.

I’m not saying that the pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make loans to borrowers that weren’t really qualified is the only cause of the housing bust as there were many contributors to it, but this was certainly one of them and definitely a large part of what led to their financial demise and need for a tax-payer bailout.

A book I’ve read that I think has the most complete and thorough analysis of what caused the housing market to have it’s longest positive run only to be followed by a collapse is Thomas Sowells’ “The Housing Boom and Bust“. In his book Mr. Sowell says this about the housing bust and the demise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; “in reality, government agencies not only approved the more lax standards for mortgage loan applicants, government officials were in fact the driving force behind the loosening of mortgage loan requirements.” So is this deja vu or what?

Mr. Sowell goes on to say “the development of lax lending standards, both by banks and by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standing behind the banks, came not from a lack of government regulation and oversight, but precisely as a result of government regulation and oversight, directed toward the politically popular goal of more ‘home ownership’ through “affordable housing,” especially for low-income home buyers. These lax lending standards were the foundation for a house of cards that was ready to collapse with a relatively small nudge.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me the government has opened the deck of cards and begun construction again.

There will be a 45 day period for public comments once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. I just tried to access the website site and it is down so I don’t know if it’s published yet but will check again and update this post with info on how to comment on the rule if you like.


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