On December 1, the FHFA issued an advisory bulletin highlighting its supervisory expectation that Fannie and Freddie maintain the safety and soundness of their operations by closely assessing the risk profile of lenders and servicers. Under the new framework, any new lender or servicer that enters into a contract with Fannie or Freddie will undergo a thorough assessment of their capital levels, business models and whether they would be able to fulfill certain responsibilities under economic downturns. This includes buying back faulty mortgages or being able to work with borrowers to avoid foreclosure. Other risks, such as potential legal troubles, will also be examined.
On December 11, Representatives Cummings (D-MD), Waters (D-CA), and Moore (D-WI) led the effort to submit a letter to FHFA’s IG requesting that the agency conduct a comprehensive audit to determine if Fannie and Freddie “are taking adequate steps to ensure that preservation companies maintain or service REO properties in compliance with the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.” The letter, which was signed by a total of 26 House Members, suggested that companies contracted by Fannie and Freddie to maintain their REOs provide inferior service within African-American, Latino, and other non-Caucasian communities. The Representatives’ allegations stem from National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) research, in addition to complaints filed with HUD and several U.S. banks. Moreover, the letter comes directly after the December 9 Senate Banking Committee hearing, “Inequality, Opportunity, and the Housing Market,” during which Deborah Goldberg, Special Project Director of NFHA, addressed that REOs are managed differently based on the community of the property.
On November 19, the Senate Banking Committee will hold an oversight hearing, “The Federal Housing Finance Agency: Balancing Stability, Growth, and Affordability in the Mortgage Market.” FHFA Director Melvin Watt is a scheduled witness and will give the opening remarks.
On November 3, FHFA Director Mel Watt announced David Applegate as the CEO for Common Securitization Solutions, LLC (CSS). As detailed in FHFA’s 2014 Strategic Plan for the Conservatorships, the creation of CSS furthers the goal to build a new securitization infrastructure to meet the needs of Fannie and Freddie. Prior to being named to the CEO post at CSS, Applegate served as the President, CEO of Homeward Residential, Inc. In addition, Applegate previously served as an executive with GMAC Mortgage and GMAC Bank. CSS was created by both Fannie and Freddie to operate a new secondary mortgage infrastructure, Common Securitization Platform. The platform is intended to replace certain elements of the GSEs’ proprietary system with regards to securitizing mortgages and performing back-office administrative functions.
On October 22, coordinated by the Department of Treasury, six federal agencies – the Board of Governors, HUD, FDIC, FHFA, OCC, and SEC – approved a final rule requiring sponsors of securitized transactions, such as asset-backed securities (ABS), to retain at least 5 percent of the credit risk of the assets collateralizing the ABS issuance. The final rule, which largely mirrors the proposed rule issued in August 2013, defines a “qualified residential mortgage” (QRM) and exempts securitized QRMs from the new risk retention requirement. Government-controlled Fannie and Freddie are exempt from the rule. Most notably, the final rule’s definition of a QRM parallels with that of a qualified mortgage as defined by the CFPB. Further, initially part of the proposed rule, the final rule does not include down payment provisions for borrowers. The final rule will be effective one year after publication in the Federal Register for residential mortgage-backed securities, and two years after publication for all other types of securitized assets.
On October 20, FHFA Director Melvin Watt delivered remarks at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Watt addressed the Agency’s progress in ensuring safety and soundness and liquidity in the housing finance market. Specifically, Director Watt focused on the Agency’s continued work to revise the Representation and Warranty Framework (Framework) under which lenders and Enterprises function, stressing the importance of providing “clear rules of the road to allow lenders to manage their risk and lend throughout the Enterprises’ credit box.” In January 2013, the Agency implemented the first improvements to the Framework, which ultimately “relieved lenders of representation and warranties obligations related to the underwriting of the borrower, the property, or the project for loans that had clean payment histories for 36 months;” and in May, the Agency announced additional clarifications on the 36 month benchmark. Now, the Agency is focusing on improving the Framework by (i) clearly defining the life-of-loan exclusions to ensure lenders know what the exclusions are and when the exclusions apply to loans that are eligible for repurchase relief. These exclusions range into six categorical types: 1) misrepresentations, misstatements and omissions; 2) data inaccuracies; 3) charter compliance issues; 4) first-lien priority and title matters; 5) legal compliance violations; and 6) unacceptable mortgage products. Details regarding the definitions of the life-of-loan exclusion types will be released by the Enterprises in the coming weeks; (ii) clarifying that only life-of-loan exclusions can trigger a repurchase; and (iii) adding a “significance” test that requires the Enterprises to “determine that the loan would have been ineligible for purchase initially if the loan information had been accurately reported.” By making these revisions to the Framework, the Agency anticipates that the Enterprises will continue to conduct quality control reviews, enhance their risk management practices, and “engage in transactions that sell a portion of the credit risk from new mortgage purchases to the private market.”
On October 7, the GAO published a report to help policymakers assess proposals for changing the single-family housing finance system and consider ways to make it more effective and efficient. To this end, the report first describes the market developments since 2000 that have led to changes in the federal government’s role in single-family housing finance. Most notably, the GAO found that as the market share of nonprime mortgages grew before the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the share of new mortgage originations insured by federal entities (including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) fell dramatically before rising sharply again during and after the crisis. Second, the report analyzed whether and how these market developments created challenges for the housing finance system. The GAO concluded that mortgage markets since 2000 have challenged the housing finance system, revealing the following weaknesses: (i) misaligned incentives between originators and securitizers on the one hand, and borrowers and investors on the other, as the former did not share the risks of the latter; (ii) a lack of reliable information and transparency for borrowers because originators were not required to share certain information; (iii) excessive risk taking due to a loosening of underwriting standards prior to the financial crisis; and (iv) a lack of federal oversight (since addressed by Congress through the FHFA and CFPB). Finally, the report presents a nine-pronged evaluation framework for assessing potential changes to the housing finance system designed to help policymakers understand the strengths and weaknesses of competing goals and policies, to craft new proposals, and to understand the risks of transitioning to a new housing finance system.
On October 8, FHFA Director Mel Watt announced Janell Byrd-Chichester as the agency’s new Chief of Staff. From 2010 to 2014, Ms. Byrd-Chichester was a partner at DC’s Mehri & Skalet law firm in their fair housing, lending and consumer protection practice. Prior to joining Mehri & Skalet, Ms. Byrd-Chichester held positions at DC’s Cochran Firm, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the North Carolina Central University School of Law, and she clerked for the Honorable Cecil F. Poole of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
On October 6, the FHFA announced that it would extend the comment period for its proposed rule on Federal Home Loan Bank membership. The proposed rule is intended to revise the requirements for financial institutions to apply for and retain membership in the FHLB. Comments are now being accepted until January 12, 2015.
OIG Audit Determines FHFA Should Direct The GSEs To Require Independent Assurance Of Counterparties’ Compliance
Recently, the FHFA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the FHFA can further mitigate the risks posed by Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s reliance on third-party mortgage loan sellers and servicers (counterparties). The OIG recommended that the FHFA direct the two GSEs to assess a risk-based approach as to whether the counterparties should obtain independent, third-party attestations of their compliance with origination and servicing requirements, which would complement but not replace Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s own onsite reviews and other performance monitoring controls. The purpose of the recommendation was to increase assurance that the $4.8 trillion in GSE-owned and -guaranteed mortgages are appropriately originated and serviced. The recommendation came at the heels of an OIG audit of FHFA’s oversight over how the GSEs ensure that third party loan sellers and servicers comply with the GSEs’ requirements. The OIG’s recommendation was based on the finding that the GSEs currently rely on the counterparties’ self-representations of their compliance, and only a portion of loans purchased are subject to detailed quality reviews. Per the OIG’s recommendation, the attestations can be implemented in a manner that considers cost versus benefit based on a given counterparty’s size, complexity, performance, and other risk factors. The FHFA did not agree with the OIG recommendation, and the OIG is requesting that FHFA reconsider its disagreement with the recommendation.
Fannie Mae Authorizes Servicers To Waive Deficiency Judgment Rights, Announces Other Servicing Policy Updates
On September 8, Fannie Mae advised in Servicing Guide Announcement SVC-2014-16 that servicers now have discretion to waive Fannie Mae’s deficiency judgment rights if doing so will help resolve foreclosure delays based upon individual borrower circumstances. The new authorization is applicable to conventional mortgage loans only, and the announcement provides a table of actions a servicer must complete prior to approving a waiver of deficiency judgment rights. The announcement also introduced the Suspended Counterparty Program (SCP), stating that servicers must establish and maintain a procedure to ensure any individual or entity on the FHFA’s SCP list is not involved in activities related to the origination or servicing of mortgage loans owned by Fannie Mae, including the marketing, maintenance, or sale of Fannie Mae REO properties. The program is effective immediately. Fannie Mae also announced several other servicing policy clarifications and form updates.
On September 2, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) issued a proposed rule that would revise the requirements for financial institutions to apply for and retain membership in the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLB). The proposed rule would change existing membership requirements primarily to: (i) require each applicant and member institution to hold one percent of its assets in “home mortgage loans” in order to satisfy the statutory requirement that an institution make long-term home mortgage loans; (ii) require each member to comply with the foregoing requirement on an ongoing basis, and where applicable, with the requirement that it have at least 10 percent of its assets in “residential mortgage loans”; (iii) define the term “insurance company” to mean a company that underwrites insurance for nonaffiliated persons as its primary business, effectively excluding from Bank membership captive insurers, but permit existing captive members to remain members for five years with certain restrictions on their ability to obtain advances; (iv) require a Bank to obtain and review an insurance company’s audited financial statements when considering it for membership; and (v) clarify the standards by which an insurance company’s “principal place of business” is to be identified in determining the appropriate Bank district for membership. The comment period will be open for 60 days following publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.
On August 29, the FHFA released proposed affordable housing goals for Fannie and Freddie that would leave in place the benchmark requiring the government-owned mortgage companies finance 23% of their mortgages in low-income areas through 2017. The proposal also included new alternative measures for the affordable housing goals, including one that would evaluate Fannie and Freddie based on how much of their business is directed to low-income areas as compared to how much the overall mortgage market serves those same areas. For the first time, the proposed rule would set benchmarks applicable to financing small, multifamily rental properties that are affordable for low-income families. FHFA’s current affordable housing goals are effective through the end of 2014. Comments on the proposal are due by October 28, 2014.
On August 12, the FHFA requested comments on the structure of a proposed single security that would be issued and guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac (the GSEs). The implementation of the single security would be part of a “multi-year initiative” to build a common securitization platform. The request explains that the proposed single security would generally encompass many of the pooling features of the current Fannie Mae Mortgage Backed Security (MBS) and most of the disclosure framework of the current Freddie Mac Participation Certificate (PC). The single security would have key features that exist in the current market, such as: (i) a payment delay of 55 days; (ii) pooling prefixes; (iii) mortgage coupon pooling requirements; (iv) minimum pool submission amounts; (v) general loan requirements, such as first lien position, good title, and non-delinquent status; (vi) seasoning requirements; and (vii) loan repurchase, substitution, and removal guidelines. The GSEs would continue to maintain their separate Servicing and Selling Guides for the single security. The FHFA is especially interested in comments on how to preserve “to-be-announced” (TBA) eligibility and ensure that legacy MBS and PCs are “fully fungible” with the single security. The FHFA also seeks specific input on: (i) what key factors regarding TBA eligibility status should be considered in the design of and transition to a single security; (ii) what issues should be considered to ensure broad market liquidity for the legacy securities; (iii) what operational, system, policy, or other effects on the industry should be considered; and (iv) what can be done to ensure smooth implementation of a single security with minimal risk of market disruption. Comments are due by October 13, 2014.