Four Quick Points About Fannie-Freddie Reform

(1) Why have an explicit guarantee?  If TARP should have taught us anything, it is that there are implicit guarantees everywhere; it is better to be up-front about the fact that the government does provide backstops in times of crisis.

(2) How to price the guarantee? Mark Zandi has a good explanation. The hard part is going to be to keep fees up in times of low defaults.  In the early part of the last decade, Fannie Mae (OTC:FNMA) and Freddie Mac (OTC:FMCC) were criticized for earning excess profits on their guarantee fees, for the simple reason that defaults on prime mortgages essentially didn’t exist in the 1998-2005 period.  Complaining about Fannie-Freddie’s g-fees at that time would be akin to complaining the State Farm enjoys excess profits when Florida goes a year without a hurricane.

(3) In the absence of government intervention in the market, the long-term fixed-rate prepayable mortgage will likely go away.  These mortgages are expensive to households, but they also provide a level of certainty that helps households manage risk.  Households are already facing more risk than before (defined benefit pensions, anyone?), so I am not sure it is a good idea to add even more.

(4) I worry about high downpayment requirements.  It is clear that households need to put some of their own money into a house for a mortgage to be safe (gifts and grants don’t count).  But while the overall homeownership rate for the US is fine, the substantial gap between whites and minorities, more than 20 percentage points, is not.  Minorities have far less wealth than whites, and across the generations, have had wealth systematically expropriated; minorities have also been discriminated against by the government in credit markets. Massey and Denton:

In rating the home, the FHA established minimum standards for lot size, setbacks and separation from existing structures that essentially eliminated many inner-city dwellings….in the late 1940s, the FHA recommended the use of application of racially restrictive covenants…per capita mortgage spending was 6.3 times greater [in St. Louis County relative to the city of St. Louis].

I suppose in light of history, direct payments to the heirs of those who have had wealth systematically stripped away makes more sense than trying to close the homeownership gap.  But the latter seems more politically doable than the former.

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About Richard K. Green 103 Articles

Affiliation: University of Southern California

Richard K. Green, Ph.D., is the Director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. He holds the Lusk Chair in Real Estate and is Professor in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Prior to joining the USC faculty, Dr. Green spent four years as the Oliver T. Carr, Jr., Chair of Real Estate Finance at The George Washington University School of Business. He was Director of the Center for Washington Area Studies and the Center for Real Estate and Urban Studies at that institution. Dr. Green also taught real estate finance and economics courses for 12 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was Wangard Faculty Scholar and Chair of Real Estate and Urban Land Economics. He also has been principal economist and director of financial strategy and policy analysis at Freddie Mac.

His research addresses housing markets, housing policy, tax policy, transportation, mortgage finance and urban growth. He is a member of two academic journal editorial boards, and a reviewer for several others.

His work is published in a number of journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Journal of Urban Economics, Land Economics, Regional Science and Urban Economics, Real Estate Economics, Housing Policy Debate, Journal of Housing Economics, and Urban Studies.

His book with Stephen Malpezzi, A Primer on U.S. Housing Markets and Housing Policy, is used at universities throughout the country. His work has been cited or he has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and the Economist, as well as other outlets.

Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his A.B. in economics from Harvard University.

Visit: Real Estate and Urban Economics Blog

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