Tag Archives: federal legislation

Top 10 Steps for State Governments to Tackle the Mortgage Crisis

The Brookings Institution, one of the nation’s most prestigious think tanks, has issued a new report on the mortgage crisis focusing on the role of state governments. 

The report, entitled “Tackling the Mortgage Crisis: 10 Action Steps for State Government,” was written by Alan Mallach, a Senior Fellow at the National Housing Institute and a Visiting Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and suggests “10 Action Steps” that can be taken by state governments to “tackle both the immediate problems caused by the wave of mortgage foreclosures and prevent the same thing from happening again.”

The 10 steps are:

  • Help borrowers gain greater access to counseling and short-term financial resources.
  • Ensure a fair foreclosure process.
  • Encourage creditors to pursue alternatives to foreclosure.
  • Prevent predatory and fraudulent foreclosure “rescue” practices.
  • Establish creditor responsibility to maintain vacant properties.
  • Make the process as expeditious as possible.
  • Ensure that the property is ultimately conveyed to a responsible owner.
  • Better regulate the mortgage brokerage industry.
  • Ban inappropriate and abusive lending practices.
  • Establish sound long-term policies to create and preserve affordable
    housing, for both owners and renters.

These seem like common sense steps to us — although the debate over what in fact are “inappropriate and abusive lending practices” and “sound long-term policies to create and preserve affordable housing” — will be where the reform process is likely to break down.

We’ve noted before that “while the federal government’s response to the mortgage and real estate crisis appears to be paralyzed by partisan politics, the States are taking the initiative in trying to protect homeowners facing foreclosure.”

The Brookings Institution agrees:

“Although most media attention has focused on the role of the federal government in stemming this crisis, states have the legal powers, financial resources, and political will to mitigate its impact. Some state governments have taken action, negotiating compacts with mortgage lenders, enacting state laws regulating mortgage lending, and creating so-called ‘rescue funds.’ Governors such as Schwarzenegger in California, Strickland in Ohio, and Patrick in Massachusetts have taken the lead on this issue. State action so far, however, has just begun to address a still unfolding, multidimensional crisis. If the issue is to be addressed successfully and at least some of its damage mitigated, better designed, comprehensive strategies are needed.”

As we’ve pointed out, “Unless a national consensus is quickly reached on dealing with the rising tide of foreclosures — and we believe this is unlikely to happen when presidential candidates are competing for votes based on whose plan is best for dealing with the mortgage and real estate crisis – we think lenders can expect to fight individual battles over foreclosure in all 50 States. Given the negative publicity that lenders have had in the media, and with a bitterly fought presidential election on the horizon, these are not battles that the lenders are likely to win.”

Since delinquent and at-risk borrowers have far more political leverage in many state capitols than they have in Washington, the Brookings Institution report not only provides a road map for individual state action, but also further increases the pressure on the mortgage industry and their supporters in the federal government to come up quickly with an effective national plan for dealing with the foreclosure crisis.

 

N.Y. Times Editorial Calls for Foreclosure Prevention Legislation Before the Next Mortgage Meltdown

The New York Times entered into the politics of the foreclosure crisis with an explosive editorial today accusing the Bush administration of failing to protect the economy and instead “sowing confusion and delay” in the face of the mortgage meltdown.

Here’s what the Times said:

“The housing bust is feeding on itself: price declines provoke foreclosures, which provoke more price declines. And the problem is not limited to subprime mortgages. There is an entirely different category of risky loans whose impact has yet to be felt — loans made to creditworthy borrowers but with tricky terms and interest rates that will start climbing next year.”

“Yet the Senate Banking Committee goes on talking. It has failed as yet to produce a bill to aid borrowers at risk of foreclosure, with the panel’s ranking Republican, Richard Shelby of Alabama, raising objections. In the House, a foreclosure aid measure passed recently, but with the support of only 39 Republicans. The White House has yet to articulate a coherent way forward, sowing confusion and delay.”

“[I]f house prices fall more than expected — a peak-to-trough decline of 20 percent to 25 percent is the rough consensus, with the low point in mid-2009 — financial losses and economic pain could extend well into 2011.”

“That is because a category of risky adjustable-rate loans — dubbed Alt-A, for alternative to grade-A prime loans — is scheduled to reset to higher payments starting in 2009, with losses mounting into 2010 and 2011. Distinct from subprime loans, Alt-A loans were made to generally creditworthy borrowers, but often without verification of income or assets and on tricky terms, including the option to pay only the interest due each month. Some loans allow borrowers to pay even less than the interest due monthly, and add the unpaid portion to the loan balance. Every payment increases the amount owed.”

“In coming years, if price declines are in line with expectations, Alt-A losses are projected to total about $150 billion, an amount the financial system could probably absorb. But until investors are sure that price declines will hew to the consensus, the financial system will not regain a sure footing. And if declines are worse than expected, losses will also be worse and the turmoil in the financial system will resume.”

“There’s a way to avert that calamity. It’s called foreclosure prevention. There is no excuse for delay.”

We agree with the Times that effective foreclosure prevention legislation is long overdue.  As the Times pointed out, unless Congress acts fast, it is likely that the economic consequences of the bursting of the housing bubble will be even more serious and widespread.

Even Fed Chair Ben Bernanke — who could not be called an advocate of government intervention in the markets — has stated that “High rates of delinquency and foreclosure can have substantial spillover effects on the housing market, the financial markets, and the broader economy” and that what is at stake is not merely the homes of borrowers, but “the stability of the financial system.” 

We also can not imagine a more self-defeating political strategy than that of the Republicans who have opposed foreclosure prevention legislation. 

We’ve already written about Senator Richard Shelby’s close ties to the apartment owners industry, which has aggressively opposed federal aid to homeowners in, or near, default.

Surely, with the presidential election only months away and their party in trouble, more Republicans — including Senator McCain — should see the need for coming to terms with the economic, and political, realities of the foreclosure crisis, even if it requires ideological compromise.

 

Disgraced Congressman Vito Fossella Comes Out of Hiding to Meet with Realtors

Realtors in Staten Island, New York, must have a lot of political clout — enough political clout to get disgraced Congressman Vito J. Fossella (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) to come out of hiding.

As the Staten Island Advance explained: “The married congressman has been in a virtual media lockdown since his arrest May 1 for drunken driving in Alexandria, Va., and his subsequent revelation that he fathered a child with the woman who fetched him from jail.”

Fossella was a no-show Wednesday at a scheduled meeting with the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce.

Yet Fossella met on Thursday with several representatives of the Staten Island Board of Realtors in what was apparently his first official face-to-face meeting with Staten Island constituents since his DUI arrest and subsequent infidelity scandal.

Staten Island Board of Realtors’ president Dawn Carpenter reported that Fossella “appeared to be in good spirits and we had some community laughs with him.”

We’re not sure what either Fossella or the realtors had to laugh about. 

Staten Island has been severely hit by the housing meltdown and foreclosure crisis.  Single family home sales in Staten Island fell by 36 percent, and prices fell 6 percent from February 2007 to February 2008.  In the past seven months, home sales in Staten Island have dropped 40 percent.

Foreclosures in Staten Island continue to rise.  There has been a 400 percent spike in Staten Island foreclosures in the first quarter of this year.  Houses are also taking longer to sell, and much of this growing inventory is coming from owners selling before they have to face foreclosure or a short sale.

We’re also not sure why realtors, who have their own extreme PR problems — realtors and agents have come in dead last in the Harris Poll survey of the prestige of various occupations every year since they were first included in 2003 — would want to be the first to publicly embrace the hypocritical Congressman.

Perhaps it’s because Fossella pushed for a $10,000 tax break for home buyers.

Or perhaps the realtors believe that Vito Fossella is a positive role model for the homeowner of the future.

If everyone did what Fossella has done — have two separate families at the same time — it would double the demand for housing.  

That may be bad for wives and children, but it would certainly be good for realtors.

UPDATE:

Fossella announced on May 19 that he would not be running for reelection. 

Staten Island Republicans then selected retired Wall Street investment executive Francis H. Powers to run for Fossella’s seat in New York City’s only Republican Congessional district. 

Powers, 67, died on June 23.

Republicans may not be able to field another candidate, since the process of collecting the signatures required to allow candidates to qualify for a place on the ballot ends in roughly two weeks.

Democrats Michael E. McMahon and Stephen A. Harrison have already announced their intention to run for the seat.

Don’t be surprised when Fossella puts his hat back in the ring.

Here is the New York Times report on the story.

 

Crisis Exposes Conflicts in Real Estate Industry as Apartment Sector Opposes Aid for Homeowners

Recent attempts in Congress to relieve the real estate crisis may not have produced much in the way of solutions, but they have certainly exposed the conflicting interests inherent in the real estate industry.

One such conflict is between individual homeowners (and the realtors who are allied with them) and the owners of multi-family housing.

In a joint statement issued on April 10, 2008, before the House Financial Services Committee, the National Multi-Housing Council (NMHC) and the National Apartment Association (NAA) took the opportunity to blame what they called the “misguided” national policy of “home ownership at any cost” for the current housing crisis.

According to the joint statement,“People were enticed into houses they could not afford and the rarely spoken truth that there is such a thing as too much homeownership was forgotten”

In sharp contrast to other sectors of the real estate market, the apartment industry has not suffered as a result of the current housing crisis.

As a recent NMHC press release observed, “The challenging economic times and financial market disruptions are having little impact on the apartment industry’s biggest firms.”

We think that the apartment industry is understating its gains from the real estate crisis.

The real estate crisis is forcing the lower end of the single-family housing market back into multi-family rental apartments.  People have to live somewhere; if they can’t afford to live in a house that they own, they will be forced to live in a house that someone else owns, such as multi-family apartment units. As homeowners suffer, apartment owners benefit.

The multi-housing and apartment sector therefore opposes pending legislation that would create a new tax credit for people who buy a new house or a house in default or foreclosure. 

According to a statement issued by Jim Arbury, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the NMHC and NAA Joint Legislative Program, “a home buyer tax credit does nothing to help people stay in their houses. The real problem in the housing market is not the oversupply problem, which the home buyer tax credit targets, but the liquidity problem. Investors have lost confidence in the mortgage market securitization process and until that confidence is restored, the housing market will continue to suffer. ”

“The unintended consequences of a home buyer tax credit should cause any lawmaker to pause and reconsider, Arbury said.  “In short, such a credit could actually increase foreclosures and accelerate house price declines…It would increase foreclosures because it creates an incentive for lenders to foreclose so that they can entice a buyer to use the government subsidy to take the house off their balance sheet… It would also accelerate the decline in house prices, specifically the house prices of fiscally responsible owners.  If these responsible owners want or need to sell their houses, they are now competing with new and foreclosed properties that come with a $15,000 taxpayer subsidy (the value of the proposed home buyer credit).  These responsible owners will be forced to lower their sales prices by $15,000 in order to compete.  Should the government be using taxpayer dollars to erode the equity of hardworking, responsible homeowners?”

Instead of a tax credit for home buyers, the apartment industry proposes measures that would “create more affordable housing for the people who are going to be displaced from their single-family houses in this market downturn” – in other words, incentives to build and invest in more apartments.

The Battle Lines Have Formed in the Politics of the Credit and Mortgage Crisis

The battle lines have formed in the political fight over the federal government’s response to the credit and mortgage crisis.

There are now two clear, and clearly different, strategies being put forward as the federal government attempts to deal with the credit and mortgage crisis — or is it the real estate crisis, the housing crisis, the foreclosure crisis, the liquidity crisis, the international banking crisis, the securities crisis, or all of the above?

One strategy relies on persuasion (and the credit industry’s recognition of group self-interest) and the other on force (and the belief that without the threat of force, individual self-interest will trump group self-interest every time).

The persuasion strategy belongs to the Bush administration, including the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, and a majority of the Republicans in the House and Senate.

Their basic approach is to use their bully pulpit, as well as some incentives, to attempt to persuade the banks, lenders, mortgage brokers, and others in the credit industry to regulate and reform themselves.

As Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson put it, the Bush administration and the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (which includes, in addition to the Treasury Secretary, the heads of the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission) want “to not create a burden” on the players in the credit industry.

They’re hoping that the industry will see that their own self-interest requires them to take the actions that the administration suggests in order to restore confidence and stability in the credit market.

For the most part, the Working Group’s recommendations would not require legislation, but would be implemented by the credit industry itself.

As the New York Times testily observed, the administration’s program, announced with such fanfare today by Treasury Secretary Paulson, “amounted to little more than demands that investors and financial institutions take greater care in analyzing and managing their risks.”

On the other side of the aisle, and from a different ideological perspective, the Democrats are pushing an agenda that relies far more on the force of government imposed regulations and the concomitant threat of legal sanctions.

The Democrats’ thinking is premised on the belief that even with the credit market in crisis, and even with the general recognition within the credit industry that new rules are necessary for the good of the game, the individual players will adhere to these rules only when they are forced to do so by federal regulators with the threat of punishment.

The Democrats are probably also thinking that a “tough” approach to the banks and the brokers will play well with the voters.

What will happen — will the persuaders or the punishers win out in the end?

Our view is that in the short run — that is, until after the November elections — the persuaders will stand their ground, even in the face of election year attacks from the Democrats, and resist the increasingly insistent calls for unleashing an armed federal force against the credit industry.

If the financial crisis worsens significantly, we would then expect that the Republican persuaders will have to make more concessions regarding legislation and federal sanctions, although we would still expect that these will be minimal.

On the other hand, if the Democrats win in November, persuasion will be dead and war will be declared.  Force would be used against the financial markets and credit industry on a major scale.

We could then see a comprehensive and sweeping legislative overall of the entire credit and banking industry even more extenstive than the Securities and Exchange Act.